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Family, activists confront Palmetto city commission about police brutality

Written by on Friday, January 26, 2024

Even though it wasn’t on the agenda, Breonte’s death took center stage

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Jan. 24, 2024

Host: On November 2, Breonte Johnson Davis died, a day after he received a beating at the hands of Palmetto police officers. He had suffered a mental health episode, and the person who called 9-11 made emergency responders aware of that fact. A state investigation into the case is ongoing, but after soon three months of silence, the family had enough and mobilized activists. On Monday, they put the heat on Palmetto City commissioners. The Breonte case was not on the agenda, but our news team got to listen to a lively meeting mostly focused on the case. It included the unexpected presence of the police chief, surprise twists, and two-way interaction.

Commissioner Cornwell

Johannes Werner: In a quite unusual city commission meeting on Monday, activists and the family of Breonte Johnson-Davis kept up the pressure on Palmetto police. In the absence of Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, who was in Tallahassee, Commissioner Tamara Cornwell managed the meeting in an open and welcoming way, obviously seeking de-escalation. If there were any tense moments, she was able to iron them out quickly.

Public comment began with Breonte’s stepmother. Here is what Beverly Davis said.

Beverly Davis: I am here tonight to demand justice for Breonte and transparency and accountability for our community. The silence shown by the police department is outrageous. We condemn the police department for not only killing Breonte, but for also sheltering from accountability. 

To the cops responsible for his murder: We demand justice, we demand transparency, and a copy of the police report from Breonte’s murder. We know from the video obtained by his family that Breonte was punched and tased by Palmetto Police Department. We know that the police department killed Breonte. Breonte was alive and well, running and speaking before he encountered the police. 

And immediately after, police retaliated, Breonte went into cardiac arrest. We demand that commission holds the police department and Chief Tyler accountable for their actions. This cover-up will not last or protect you. We continue to fight for accountability and justice, and we will not give up. Thank you.

JW: Breonte’s stepmom was followed by Chief Scott Tyler. The Palmetto police chief responded to accusations of lack of transparency and possible violations of use-of-force reporting rules. He showed a report filed with state authorities six weeks after the incident, and he said the Palmetto Police Department is not required to file with federal authorities, that’s something FDLE does.

Breonte Johnson-Davis

Sarah Parker, with Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida, played a video recorded by an onlooker. It shows a policeman punching Breonte several times. Parker talked directly to Chief Tyler and asked for his resignation. 

Sarah Parker: I first want to thank — my name is Sarah Parker in Sarasota, Florida — thank you so much, Commissioner Cornwell. You’ve been really awesome so far, and I appreciate that.

You do not tase a person that is going to jump off a roof of a building and kill themselves.  You do not harm a person that is seeking mental help. What you’re about to see is a video that we have, because the public should see that. Before that, though, I want you to bring your attention back to the police, the press release by the police. Not stating once that they punched Breonte. So can you play that video, please?

Do you see his arms swinging? That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, almost 5 to 6 punches. Not once was this addressed in the way that you wrote, Chief Tyler. In 2013, when you were the Assistant Chief, over one-third of our police force was uncalled for. One third. You are not doing any better than your predecessor. This is a problem. And we are demanding justice. And this video will now be released to the public across Florida. We’re demanding also that Scott Tyler resign, immediately.

JW: Parker was preceded and followed by a dozen speakers, including a cousin and sister of Breonte. The tenor: Hold police accountable, and deploy social workers and other experts in such situations, rather than police, as practiced by the City of St. Petersburg.

At the end of the meeting, after discussing roundabouts, traffic accidents, and fences that need fixing, two commissioners returned to discussing Breonte. Commissioner Harold Smith quizzed Chief Tyler over his use-of-force reporting. Then he went into the video he had just seen.

Harold Smith: The video that was shown tonight. Is that the first time you’ve ever seen that video?

Scott Tyler: No.

HS: You’ve never seen that video before?

ST: I have seen the video before.

HS: Why we don’t have that video? 

ST: Because, well, first of all—

HS: I can see the car pulled up. They should have had their video, their camera should have been on. All the cops videos should have been on. Cam should have been on. 

ST: It’d be the greatest thing in the world for me to hold a press conference and show everything right now. Share everything to the family, share everything to the community. But FDLE is still conducting an active investigation. And I’m not going to comment on this video or other.

HS: I understand that, but I’m just saying though. No, no, no, no, I’m not talking about that video. I’m talking about on your video. Why we didn’t see that. On your video. Not on that video.

ST: Look, I am sorry that everybody’s frustrated. I’m as frustrated as anybody else about how long this is taking.

HS: It ain’t got nothing to do with it. Hold on. Chief ain’t got nothing to do with that. No, we’ve seen something different. 

ST: I don’t think you’ve seen something different, but when it all comes out, let’s look at all of the videos.

HS: So you don’t think I’ve seen anything different? 

ST: Commissioner, I am not going to comment on that video.

HS: No, I don’t want you to comment on it, but Chief, everybody has seen something different. Everybody.

ST: I am not going to comment on that video until after you leave the investigation is over. 

HS: No, that’s sad, man. I’ve seen the video too, myself, but I ain’t seen it like that. That many blows that somebody was swinging on a person. That upset me real bad.

ST: When, when the investigation is, when this information becomes public, we will all look at it together. 

JW: Ruth Beltran, an activist with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, responded to Tyler’s statements in a phone interview.

Ruth Beltran: I think what I’m gathering and what I’m seeing as we continue to ask for information and call different agencies, including the FDLE, um, to confirm what is the requirement when it comes to use of force, is that the Palmetto Police can actually decide what to do.

Commissioner Sheldon Jones

 They have complete freedom to not file anything at all. Um, just yesterday I spoke with, um, a special agent with the Sarasota field office of the FDLE. And he confirmed that although police departments have assigned memorandum of understanding with the FDLE, they are actually not mandated  by state law to contact FDLE for every instance of use of force. They can actually pick and choose when they do contact the FDLE.

So we know for a fact now that the Palmetto police department has been policing itself, that there’s no actual oversight. 

JW: At the very end of the meeting, the unexpected happened: Commissioner Jones urged the city commission to issue an apology to the family.

Sheldon Jones: I just want to say this to the family, and it hasn’t been said up here that we deeply, apologize to the family, whatever the actions have been taken, but believe me. Before, you know, we can’t do so much, so many comments and so forth, but believe me, this commission, if it’s something that’s not right, we’re going to do we’re supposed to do. I believe that.

So I just want to make sure that, we’ll apologize to the family that probably hasn’t been said up here over everything that’s going on. I want it to happen. I want to make sure I said that opinion.

JW: This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.


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