110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Officer's dash cam shows chase — WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
By Pat Andrews
posted Sep 18, 2013 - 7:07:35pm
For several seconds, Officer James Harris' dashboard camera picks up the image of Marlon Brown, dressed in white, running, then stumbling, through a grassy vacant lot in the Spring Hill neighborhood of DeLand.
Brown wavers as he approaches a fence surrounding a vegetable garden. Then, finally, the camera shows Brown's face just beyond the hood of Harris' police car. The face disappears, there is a bumping sound, and the cruiser comes to a halt.
The images are graphic, and watching them has prompted Brown's family to call for a new, independent investigation of Brown's death May 8, following a brief pursuit by two officers of the DeLand Police Department.
Harris, the officer who ran over Brown, was fired from his job, but a grand jury decided earlier this month he should not be criminally charged. Brown's family, and their attorney, think the grand jury was wrong.
"I feel very betrayed by the criminal-justice system," Krystal Brown said.
Marlon Brown's Aunt Carolyn Horne said she, too, feels the system failed this time. "I am a Christian lady, and I believe in the system," she said.
Once people see the video from the dashboard camera, they will know that what has been portrayed by official investigators is not true, Horne said.
The video was released by the family Sept. 18. The shocking images show the police car driving straight toward Brown, without wavering, bumping over patches of dirt and grass.
The cruiser doesn't appear to slow before running over Brown, though official reports said the car slowed from 32 mph to 20 mph at the end of the pursuit that started with Brown's failure to stop for a traffic violation.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN
"This was an execution. … For what? A seat-belt violation?" the family's attorney Benjamin Crump said, adding, "Only in Spring Hill."
The family wants to know what evidence the State Attorney's Office actually presented to the grand jury, which meets in secret.
Crump said Harris should be held accountable for vehicular homicide, committed in a reckless manner. He has asked state and federal agencies for an independent investigation, sending along a copy of the video, which will point out the necessity for that investigation, he said.
Documents from the Florida Highway Patrol and State Attorney's Office investigations of Marlon Brown's death show that investigators and witnesses disagreed about exactly how the police vehicle came to rest with Marlon Brown beneath it.
The Medical Examiner's Office said Brown fell beneath the vehicle; the police vehicle did not knock down the running man.
Krystal Brown spoke with The Beacon Sept. 17, the day before the press conference. She said State Attorney R.J. Larizza took the easy way out by sending the case to a grand jury instead of charging Harris. Charges, she said, would have given Harris his day in court, and Marlon his.
After two days, the grand jury returned a "no true bill" recommendation of no charges against Harris. Only the charge of vehicular homicide was considered by the jury, Larizza said.
Krystal Brown said the couple's children, 12-year-old Marlon Jr. and 13-year-old Armani, have seen the video of their father's death, and they are strong in dealing with it. They want justice for their father.
Marlon Brown, 38, was a well-known and popular barber in Spring Hill, and was in the process of putting his life back together after some run-ins with the law. Now, he'll never have that chance, Krystal Brown said.
Police-practices expert William T. Gaut's report is part of hundreds of pages of interviews and documentation released Sept. 10 after the grand jury finished its work.
Gaut concluded Harris had been driving carelessly, given the conditions of darkness, wet grass and a suspect on foot vs. a 4,000-pound vehicle. Harris also violated the Police Department's policy of non-pursuit except after a forcible felony, Gaut said.
DeLand Police Chief Bill Ridgway said he fired Harris the same day he watched the dash-cam video.
Night of nightmares
Reams of pages of interview transcripts and investigative reports paint a hellish picture at the scene of Brown's death off the dead end of South Delaware Avenue.
Among the findings from those reports:
Volusia County Sheriff's Office Deputy John Szabo had tried to stop Marlon Brown for not wearing a seat belt. He did not continue his pursuit, however, when Brown failed to stop.
Brown had two women with him, Shanmeisha Johnson, who was in the front seat, and Ingrid Hellstrom, who was in the back. The three had just stopped to pick up Casie Jones and Laheia Olivera, who had been walking down the street.
The women told investigators they thought picking up the two white women was what attracted the deputy's attention.
When Szabo made a U-turn to follow the car and put on his lights to indicate Brown should pull over, Brown panicked, according to the women's interviews.
Brown said he was on probation and was driving without a license.
The women all begged Brown to pull over, but Brown kept saying, "I'm not going back to jail. I can't do it. … I can't. I can't. I just can't," according to the reports.
Meanwhile, Szabo broke off his attempt to follow Brown's Toyota. Two DeLand police officers, Harris and Officer Justin Ferrari, were nearby and took up the pursuit. They followed Brown the short trip down West Beresford Avenue and onto South Delaware, which dead-ends just to the west of a small field of soft, loamy sand with a vegetable garden in the back.
By the time Brown was pulling his car onto the field, the four women were screaming for him to stop, transcripts of their interviews show.
Marlon Brown stopped in the field, along a line of trees, and bailed out of the car without putting the Toyota in park. Ferrari pulled in behind Brown's car and stopped.
"I jumped in the front seat, because me and the other girl, Poo [Johnson] — she was in the passenger's seat — she jumped in the driver's seat and we were both trying to get the gear shifter [to put it in park], because we were headed towards the big oak tree," Hellstrom told investigators.
The two women put the car in park at the same time.
"And I'm sideways in the seat, and I see Marlon running. And then I see the police car. And one goes around the tree this way, and one went around this way."
"And you could hear his car. It was like 'voom voom,' you know what I mean? He kicked it down to go after him."
"But I seen them — he went through, like, a garden and ran over a fence and then ran over Marlon. … And then I could hear it, and then you could see him underneath the car before they turned the lights out," Hellstrom said.
Hellstrom said she could see blood on Brown's white T-shirt. She was in shock.
Olivera told investigators, "When the cop hit him, all I seen was, like the car — like, the car, like smack him. And I see him fall — like, it was like kind of like a hesitant fall."
Neighbor Denise Addison, watching from her window, said she didn't realize Brown had been run over at first. Then she heard one of the officers say, "He's dead."
Ferrari told investigators he also didn't realize at first that Brown was beneath the police vehicle. Ferrari, on foot, had yelled at Brown to stop, then lost sight of him in the darkness. Then he saw Harris drive past. He thought Harris had simply run into the fence, and that the two officers would pursue Brown.
Then Harris told Ferrari he thought Brown was under his cruiser.
"We've got to move the car. We've got to get it off; we've got to get it off of him," Ferrari reported Harris had said.
Harris tried to back his car off Brown, Ferrari said, but the vehicle wouldn't budge.
When it registered with Ferrari what Harris was telling him, Ferrari looked under the car and saw Brown there. He called for rescue, Code 3. Their sergeant on duty, Grant Faustich, arrived on the scene quickly and also reacted incredulously when told Brown was beneath the car.
Faustich checked for signs of life and found none.
The three officers, fueled by adrenaline, tried to lift the vehicle off Brown. It wouldn't budge.
More frantic calls for rescue were made. Finally, in the wee hours, Volusia County Fire Rescue used special equipment to lift the vehicle enough to free Brown's body.
The Medical Examiner's Office said Brown died of asphyxia — lack of life-sustaining oxygen — from the weight of the vehicle atop him.
"There is no evidence that he was struck by the vehicle," the medical examiner reported. "There were no skull fractures and no fractures of the pelvis or lower extremities. … The abrasions on the back show the contact points between the car and the body where he was held in place by the weight of the car."
He determined the death was accidental. He also found painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs in Brown's system, but said they were at therapeutic levels such as would have been prescribed by a doctor.
The Brown family will celebrate Marlon Brown's 39th birthday Sunday, Sept. 22.
For Krystal Brown, the grief and the outrage have not gone away. They have been focused into making a difference, into engaging members of the Spring Hill community in civic activism. Members of "Team Marlon" plan to regularly attend City Commission meetings.
In Marlon Brown's memory, they will continue to try to make a difference, to change DeLand for the better.
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