FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Questions arose Thursday about possible irregularities surrounding the secret proceedings of a grand jury that indicted a Florida deputy charged with manslaughter in the shooting of a man carrying an air rifle.
Defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich said at a hearing that one grand juror might have been biased against Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Peter Peraza because his daughter was facing drunken-driving charges while the case was being presented.
Schwartzreich also questioned how shooting victim Jermaine McBean’s family obtained witness statements and evidence for a federal wrongful death lawsuit while the criminal investigation was ongoing. Typically such material is kept under wraps until charges are filed.
“I want to know what happened here. Was this a fair shake?” Schwartzreich said. “I’m not looking to go on an inquisition.”
Peraza has pleaded not guilty in the 2013 shooting of McBean, a 33-year-old information technology worker with chronic mental problems who was carrying an authentic-looking air rifle outside his apartment complex. McBean’s family has said he was probably listening to music through earbuds and did not hear deputies’ commands to drop the weapon.
Peraza, 37, faces 30 years in prison if convicted. He is the first Florida law enforcement officer in decades to be charged with a crime for an on-duty shooting. His indictment comes amid an ongoing national debate about police use of force, particularly against African-Americans.
Schwartzreich had sought to force the grand juror whose daughter had the DUI charge – and whose wife had a previous DUI conviction – to testify about possible bias at a hearing next week. Both cases involved Broward Sheriff’s Office personnel, although only in support roles and Peraza was not part of either case.
But Assistant State Attorney Tim Donnelly said there was no legal authority for the juror to be subpoenaed to testify, and Circuit Judge Michael Usan agreed. The juror’s name has not been made public.
“What goes on in there is permanently secret,” Donnelly said of grand jury proceedings.
The daughter’s pending case was switched to Miami-Dade County to avoid any possible conflict with her father’s grand jury service, Donnelly said. The order transferring the case was signed by Gov. Rick Scott.