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A Florida deputy has been indicted for manslaughter in the shooting death of Jermaine McBean, who was killed while walking home with an unloaded pellet gun he had just bought a pawn shop.
Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Peter Peraza — who was given a bravery award for the shooting by his bosses while it was still under investigation — surrendered early Friday and was expected to be released on $25,000 bond, prosecutors said. He was suspended without pay and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
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The case is the first time since 1980 that a police officer in Broward County has been indicted for a fatal on-duty shooting.
"It's a very sad day because nothing can replace their loss but they hope it's the first step toward finally achieving some measure of justice," said David Schoen, a lawyer for McBean's family.
The grand jury began hearing testimony and evidence a week ago — more than two years after McBean, a 33-year-old computer engineer, was shot dead in the courtyard of his Broward County apartment building.
As NBC News has reported in a series of stories about the case, Schoen uncovered evidence that appeared to contradict some aspects of the police account of the shooting.
One of the people who called 911 after seeing McBean walking down the street with the rifle told NBC News that he had the gun yoked across his shoulders and did not point it at officers before he was shot.
In addition, a photo of McBean just after he was killed showed him wearing ear buds — even though police insisted he didn't have anything in his ears that would have stopped him from hearing their demands to drop the rifle.
In videotaped statements to investigators, Peraza said he fired because he feared for his life.
"I'm outraged," Peraza's lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich, said of the indictment. "This was a justified shooting."
Schwartzreich said his client was responding to 911 calls of a man with a gun and the air rifle McBean carried "looked very real." He insisted McBean pointed it at the officer and that Peraza "was simply protecting what he perceived to be a threat.'
The lawyer suggested that anger over police shootings around the country led prosecutors to "steer this into the lion's den" and said the charges against Peraza "could have a chilling effect on law enforcement officers anywhere."
"My client should never have been indicted," he said.
The sheriff's department gave bravery awards to two of the officers involved in the shooting — including the deputy who fired the fatal shots — while the incident was still under investigation. The sheriff later told NBC News that was a mistake.
"There was not only a crime committed here but a complete coverup conspiracy going up the chain of command," Schoen said.
"I think ultimately it was the lying and coverup and the giving of an award that was simply too much for grand jurors to overlook."
The Sheriff's Office also faces a civil suit from McBean's family that charges race was a factor in the shooting. The U.S. Justice Department has been monitoring the case for possible civil rights violations.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has denied any coverup. After the indictment, he said he respects the grand jury process.
"I truly believe every hardworking deputy and officer in our nation is committed and dedicated to the community they serve. This is why they put their lives on the line each and every day. They believe in justice and how our judicial system should work," he said in a statement.
"For everyone in this case — the McBean family, the Peraza family, the BSO family, everyone in our community — we want truth and justice to prevail."