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The FBI has opened an investigation into the 2013 death of Jermaine McBean, a Florida man who was shot by police while walking home with an unloaded air rifle, a court filing shows.
The disclosure came in a motion by the Broward County Sheriff's Office, which is seeking to put a hold on a federal lawsuit filed by McBean's family, who allege police covered up the circumstances of his death.
"I'm glad the Justice Department is going to take a look at it because the local authorities have had two years to investigate this case," said David Schoen, a lawyer for the family, who requested a civil rights probe.
The Broward Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After McBean was killed, police said he had ignored their calls to drop the rifle, spun around and pointed it at them near a pool where children were swimming.
The shooting officer said the 33-year-old computer engineer had nothing in his ears that would have stopped him from hearing the police commands, and the detective in charge of the investigation said police at the scene confirmed McBean was not wearing headphones and and said they were found in his pocket.
But as NBC News reported in May, a photo taken by a witness and only recently disclosed shows McBean was in fact wearing earbuds when he was shot.
In addition, another witness — a driver who called 911 in alarm when he saw McBean walking down the street — told NBC News that he never pointed the air rifle at police.
Michael Russell McCarthy, 58, said McBean had the Winchester Model 1000 Air Rifle he had just bought at a local pawn shop balanced on his shoulders behind his neck, with his hand over both ends. He was turning around to face police when one officer began shooting, McCarthy said.
"He [McBean] couldn't have fired that gun from the position he was in. There was no possible way of firing it and at the same time hitting something," McCarthy said. "I kind of blame myself, because if I hadn't called it might not have happened."
Two years after McBean's death, prosecutors still have not presented the case to a grand jury. In a letter attached to the sheriff's motion, the Justice Department said it had received a complaint about the shooting and had asked the FBI to review the case for possible civil rights violations.
The Broward County Sheriff's Office has denied the family's accusations of a coverup and said in court papers that McBean was to blame for his own death.
However, the office is reviewing an award for bravery that was given to the deputy, Peter Peraza, who killed McBean even while the shooting was still under investigation.