A rookie Broward Sheriff’s deputy was fired Thursday for cold-cocking an inmate being processed at the main Broward County Jail — the eighth officer in the department fired, suspended or convicted of a crime in the past three weeks.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony announced the decision himself, curiously timing it for the end of a four-hour presentation that the sheriff’s office put on with the intent to show the public and media the proper use of force and the difficulties of policing.
A video that Tony showed of the encounter between Deputy Kevin Fanti and detainee Kyle Paul was the latest example of a deputy violating the proper rules of engagement in a beleaguered department that was stripped of its accreditation by a state panel two weeks ago for the mishandling of two mass shootings.
“It’s unacceptable. There isn’t a policy I need to see to tell me that’s wrong,” Tony said of Fanti’s actions, adding he was grateful to his staff for showing him the video before it made national headlines. “We’re changing the culture that exists here.”
In the video, Paul, 19 and wearing a dark long-sleeved shirt and shorts while handcuffed, walks toward Fanti, then backs off. The deputy then moves aggressively toward Paul, shoves paper into his chest and strikes him with several right hands before Paul goes down. About 10 other handcuffed inmates are nearby, as are other deputies and U.S. Marshals.
Tony said Paul had not been arrested by Fanti. He was jailed for obstructing a criminal investigation. The incident happened in a fenced-off area of the jail on June 26. Tony said he first saw the video Thursday and Fanti, 26, was fired the same day.
Jeff Bell, president of BSO’s largest police union, didn’t take issue with the firing, saying the video speaks for itself.
“I don’t see anything in there that justifies it [the officer’s punch],” Bell said.
The union president did, however, take issue with the timing of Tony’s announcement.
“I don’t think the firing of a deputy should be made as a public celebration by the sheriff,” he said.
Tony, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace fired elected Sheriff Scott Israel in January after a state panel’s critical findings of the department’s actions during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland last year, has been under immense pressure politically the past few months.
Aside from the arrests and suspensions of his deputies, the sheriff has sparred with Broward State Attorney Michael Satz over the accidental release of a murder suspect from jail. He’s argued with elected leaders over police actions during the rough arrest of an unarmed teen. And the sheriff has been criticized by community leaders and the NAACP for delaying decisions on punishments for deputies.
To be fair, Tony inherited some of the department’s problems. He was brought in by DeSantis in the aftermath of the Parkland probe and while the department was still being scrutinized over command issues during the Fort Lauderdale International Airport mass shooting in 2017, when five people were killed and six others injured.
The most recent issues, however, began June 26, when Tony announced the firings of Edward Eason and Joshua Stambaugh for “neglect of duty” during the high school massacre that took 17 lives and left 17 others injured. The sheriff said Eason never activated his body camera and drove to another location to put on his vest. Stambaugh, Tony said, hid behind his vehicle during the shooting, then drove away from the scene and reported back what he saw through his binoculars.
Two days later on June 28 Deputy Jorge Sobrino was arrested and charged with a single count of misdemeanor battery after his body camera caught him punching a clearly agitated man whom Sobrino had arrested and handcuffed to a hospital bed.
Then on July 1, a state panel voted unanimously to revoke the department’s accreditation, a voluntary certification sought by many law enforcement agencies. The panel said it made its decision based on the mishandling of the airport shooting and the Parkland massacre, where there were chaotic and disorganized responses.
Two days after that, on July 3, three Broward deputies were charged for their actions during the April 18 arrest of Delucca Rolle, a 15-year-old J.P. Taravella High School student who had gathered with others at a nearby McDonald’s after school in anticipation of a fight. Cellphone video taken by another student showed the officers pepper-spray then violently take Delucca to the ground before pushing his head into the pavement.
Sgt. Gregory LaCerra, 51, was charged with two counts of battery and single counts of falsifying records and conspiracy to falsify the description of the circumstances of the juvenile’s arrest. Deputy Christopher Krickovich, 29, is facing two counts of battery, two counts of falsifying records and a single count of conspiracy to falsify records and Deputy Ralph Mackey was charged with single counts of falsifying records and conspiracy to falsify records.
After they were charged, Krickovich, LaCerra and Mackey were suspended without pay by Tony.