A Florida sheriff asked state police on Monday to open a criminal investigation into one of his own deputies — a white sergeant who shot and critically wounded an unarmed black auto theft suspect overnight.
As a matter of policy, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reviews all officer-involved shootings in many Florida counties, including Orange County. But Sheriff Jerry Demings said he was determined to be as transparent as possible in light of events that have occurred around the nation in recent times that have strained police-community relations."
Cedric Bartee, 28, was shot about midnight Sunday after Orange County deputies responded to a report of a stolen car in West Orlando, Demings said at a news conference Monday afternoon. Bartee and a second man were entering the car when deputies arrived, but Bartee ignored deputies' commands for them to get out, Demings said. After the driver made "extensive further movements,' the deputy, identified as Sgt. Robert McCarthy, fired three shots, striking Bartee once, he said. He said witnesses gave conflicting accounts about whether Bartee — who was reported critical but stable at Orlando Regional Medical Center — had his hands in the air when he was shot.
Demings made it clear that he supported McCarthy, a white seven-year veteran of the department who he said was "fearing for his safety." He also said Bartee, who is black, has an extensive criminal record, with about 20 previous felony arrests. Florida court records show that at least twice, in 2006 and 2010, Bartee was arrested specifically on charges of resisting law enforcement officers; the final dispensations of those charges weren't available Monday night.
Demings said he was asking for a criminal investigation because "I am very sensitive to some of the events that have occurred around the nation in recent times," an apparent reference to public demonstrations in the wake of grand juries' decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York. Like Bartee, both Brown and Garner, who were black, were unarmed. "I want to ensure that we have transparency as well as accountability for the actions of all of my staff that's involved," said Demings, who was joined at the news conference by black and white religious and community leaders. "I ask everyone to not rush to judgment and to allow the investigation to be completed in accordance with established policy and law."
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