OAKLAND PARK, Fla. – Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel awarded a deputy a coveted Gold Cross Award after a 2013 fatal shooting, but now an eyewitness, a newly surfaced photograph and a federal lawsuit contradict the Broward Sheriff's Office's version of events the day Deputy Peter Peraza shot Jermaine McBean, who had suffered from mental illness, while he held an unloaded pellet gun.
The shooting happened after motorists called 911 to report a man carrying a gun on Dixie Highway just north of Commercial Boulevard.
"He's carrying what looks like some sort of a BB gun [or] shotgun," said one female 911 caller. "I don't know what it is."
Witness Michael McCarthy told dispatchers it looked like a "rifle" before saying it may have been an air rifle. Deputies claimed that after ordering McBean, 33, to drop the weapon from behind him he didn't respond. Then, when he finally began to turn around, McBean allegedly pointed the air gun at Peraza.
"The subject turned toward one of our deputies, pointed the rifle," Sheriff Scott Israel told the media at the scene of the shooting.
But that official version is now being directly contradicted by McCarthy, who said he saw the shooting occur, something he said haunts him to this day.
"I watched the cop shoot him and I watched him drop," McCarthy told Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman.
McCarthy said McBean was never a threat to the deputies and never pointed the BB gun at the deputies. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of McBean's mother by attorney David Schoen, alleges perjury by the deputies involved and a cover-up leading all the way to Israel.
Schoen wrote in the complaint, "Their conspiracy to white-wash and cover up Defendant Peraza's actions and the conduct of other law enforcement officers involved included a sham 'investigation,' ignoring and discouraging witnesses from telling the truth, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice."
The lawsuit also points to testimony by Peraza and other deputies stating that McBean had nothing obstructing his ears, so he must have heard their orders to drop the weapon. Schoen said the family was told by BSO Detective Efrain Torres that McBean's ever-present ear buds were found in his pocket. Yet a photo taken by a witness living in the apartment complex where the shooting took place clearly showing ear buds in his ears.
Israel refused an interview, but issued the following statement on the case: "Detectives are on fact-finding missions. They exhausted all leads, took dozens of statements and turned the case over to the state attorney's office for its independent review and subsequent grand jury review. There was no cover-up. The woman who took the photo never shared it with our investigators."
The state attorney's office is investigating the case and, though the shooting happened nearly two years ago, McCarthy was only interviewed last week, according to the New York Times, which initially reported the new findings about the case over the weekend.
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