FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A 17-year-old girl testified on Tuesday in Broward County court about the day a deputy used force to knock her to the ground at Cross Creek School, a therapeutic day school in Pompano Beach.
The girl said another student gave her a vape pen. She said that on Sept. 25, 2019, she got caught using it to smoke a substance with a fruity flavor at school. She was in a detention classroom with enclosed “timeout” rooms.
The girl admitted to shouting expletives at Willard Miller, a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy at the time. She was 15. He was not facing her when she approached him. Her hands were in her pockets.
“I just gently tapped [the deputy] ... I think I was scared and a little bit angry,” the victim said adding, “He waited, and then he reacted ... He grabbed me by the neck ... He slammed me.”
Miller handcuffed the girl in front of the school’s behavioral techs. Prosecutors charged Miller, a former school resource deputy, with child abuse without great bodily harm. BSO fired him over the incident.
The victim was the prosecution’s second witness during Miller’s trial. Raymond Higgins, the school’s security specialist, was the prosecution’s first witness. Higgins said he was in his office getting ready for lunch when he checked back on the surveillance camera’s live feed.
“I saw the deputy when he grabbed [the student] and he took her to the ground,” Higgins said, adding he reported the incident to the school’s principal.
Attorney Jeremy Kroll, who is representing Miller, and Assistant State Attorney Lindsay Carrier both agreed Miller purposely turned off his bodyworn camera. Kroll said Miller did so to gain the student’s trust while questioning her about the vape pen.
Kroll said Miller was using his phone’s Internet access to figure out how to open the vape pen. Kroll said he had feared the girl had been using an illegal substance while on psychotropic medications.
They were in a detention room with smaller rooms for time-outs. Kroll said the teenage girl kicked Miller and threatened to grab his gun. During her testimony, the girl said she did not threaten to disarm him.
After the BSO internal affairs investigation, Sheriff Gregory Tony condemned Miller’s actions as “deplorable.” Deputies found Miller didn’t issue a written report to explain his use of force. Four months before the incident, Miller had undergone use of force training, records show.
“There was no justifiable cause to respond in that matter as a professional law enforcement officer with years of experience, with a multitude of training and defensive tactics, and the ability to use a lesser level of any type of force or even communication that could’ve deescalated the situation from happening,” Tony later said.
Miller is facing a charge of child abuse without great bodily harm. Broward Circuit Judge Daniel A. Casey is presiding over the trial. The case is scheduled to resume at 10:30 a.m., on Wednesday.