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State investigation finds no police wrongdoing in Palmetto man’s death

Written by on Thursday, February 29, 2024

Family and activists are calling for change in handling mental distress cases.


By Bernadette Estrada-Brown

Original Air Date: Feb. 28, 2024

Host: On Nov. 2, a Palmetto man died after he was wrestled down and tasered by city police officers. It took state investigators more than three months to come up with conclusions. WSLR News has been following the case, and Bernadette Estrada-Brown has the story about the findings of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the community’s reactions.

Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler

Bernadette Estrada-Brown: Another heartbreak comes to the family of Breonte Lamar Johnson-Davis, who lost his life on Nov. 2, 2023, following a confrontation with Palmetto police officers. The incident unfolded when authorities responded to a call concerning Johnson-Davis, who was experiencing a mental health crisis, needed assistance, and later died while in police custody. FDLE have released the results of their investigation, and Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler is explaining their findings.

Scott Tyler: They have concluded that our officers acted reasonably, and their actions were justified that night, and they have concluded that our officers’ actions had nothing to do with his death.

BEB: I interviewed Chief Tyler and asked his opinion on the ethics of interdepartmental investigations. Is the FDLE non-partisan?

ST: I do believe in independent investigations, and that’s what we asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to do. Our 12th Circuit State Attorney’s Office also reviewed the circumstances of this case.

BEB: I was curious about body cams and whether or not the footage is edited, as mentioned in the Palmetto commission meeting on Monday, February 26, 2024, where the family was outraged to be shut down by Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant.

Shirley Groover Bryant: You talk fast. Is there anybody that has something pressing they want to share? Seems not.

Family member: I do.

SGB: Well, you got like two minutes. You can do it. You can do it.

Family Member: Well. I got one more question, Chief. On the video that you showed, there was no edit on that video at all?

SGB: You’re out of order. You’re out of order.

BEB: Chief Tyler was open in his response.

ST: Our entire patrol division are assigned body cameras. As far as editing body camera footage, we do not edit body camera footage. And in this case, the body camera footage that was provided to the community is unedited. And I want to emphasize that no further assistance or treatment could be accomplished until he was restrained.

Tracey Washington, holding a photo of her son. Beltran is on the left.

BEB: Reports suggest that officers confronted a distressed Johnson-Davis whose behavior indicated a mental health emergency. Instead of receiving support, the situation escalated into a confrontation. Ruth Beltran, a community organizer of the Party of Socialism and Liberation Tampa Bay and Answer Suncoast, believes that if the Palmetto Police Department had adopted the St. Petersburg Police Department’s training and response model, Johnson-Davis might be alive today. St. Petersburg police have trained mental health care professionals to handle such emergencies.

Ruth Beltran: The death of Breonte Johnson-Davis was preventable. If the Palmetto Police Department would have had a CALL program, like St. Pete, a program dealing with disorderly conduct, dealing with mental health crisis, dealing with drug issues, mental health professionals are the ones that are dispatched to those calls instead of the police.

BEB: Megan McGee, a representative of the St. Pete Police Department, explains how the St. Pete Police utilize trained mental health experts to respond to those calls where a mental health crisis occurs.

Megan McGee: In a way, that is trauma-informed and the commitment to have it with people who are in crisis to get them to a point of being stable.

BEB: Despite efforts to de-escalate the situation, the encounter ended in tragedy, leaving the Johnson-Davis family in disbelief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s findings. The family is now advocating for increased awareness of mental health issues and police reform, as well as the availability of more mental health resources to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Tracey Washington: And you laugh about it. How can you sleep at night? Cause that was my child and I don’t care what he was on. That didn’t give them the right to take his life.

BEB: If you or someone you know is battling with a mental health crisis, please pick up the phone and dial 211. You are not alone. Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Bernadette Estrada-Brown.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.