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A Florida grand jury begins hearing evidence Wednesday in the police shooting death of Jermaine McBean, who was killed while carrying an unloaded pellet gun home from a pawn shop, a lawyer for his family said.
McBean's family has been called to testify at the first of three days of hearings on the case, which the U.S. Justice Department is monitoring for possible civil rights violations, attorney David Schoen said.
A spokesman for the Broward County office of the Florida State Attorney said he could not discuss the proceedings.
Schoen said it would be a "travesty" if the panel did not return an indictment against the officers involved, but noted that no officers have been charged in 168 fatal police shootings in Broward dating back to 1980.
"If there is no indictment returned in this case for both the homicide and the obstruction of justice that followed, it would send a horrible message to the world, including to all of the good and honest law enforcement officers who do their job honestly and faithfully every day," Schoen said.
McBean, 33, a computer systems engineer, was shot dead July 31, 2013, by a Broward Sheriff's deputy responding to 911 calls from people seeing a man walking down the street with a rifle.
Police said McBean ignored their shouted orders to stop and drop the rifle and told his family that he was not wearing headphones that could have prevented him from hearing them.
But as NBC News reported in June, a photograph later surfaced showing McBean dead on the ground with white earbuds in his ears — earbuds that police claimed were found in his pocket at the hospital.
In addition, one of the 911 callers has contradicted the police claim that McBean turned on them and pointed the rifle before he was shot.
"He couldn't have fired that gun from the position he was in," the witness, Michael Russell McCarthy, told NBC News. He has been called to testify before the grand jury, Schoen said.
Three months after McBean's death, the deputy who fired the fatal shot and another officer who was on the scene received awards for bravery for the incident.
In October, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told NBC News the award was a mistake and violated department policies, which he plans to revise.
Israel has denied allegations by McBean's family in a wrongful-death suit that the award was part of "a coverup" for an unjustified shooting.
Attorneys for the officers have repeatedly declined comment, but in court papers they have said that McBean's actions were to blame for his death.