Officer James Harris in DeLand, Florida has been fired after he ran over a man who was fleeing police. Marlon Robert Brown, 38, was being pulled over for a seatbelt violation when he fled. He won’t do that again. The video shows Harris pursuing Brown in his car and when Brown trips, running over the man.
Police initially tried to pull over Brown but backed off when he entered DeLand. The DeLand police were notified that the seatbelt-less suspect had entered their jurisdiction. A chase ensured with multiple cars in pursuit. Harris went around officers to continue to pursue Brown in the underbrush.
A grand jury declined to charge Harris with vehicular manslaughter.
Brown has a long criminal record with 18 misdemeanor charges, five felony charges, and three felony convictions. These include grand theft, battery, forgery and other crimes. However, the specific cause of this confrontation was a seatbelt violation, which raises concerns over a “pretext stop.” These pretextual stops have been more common after the Supreme Court ruled that it would not question the motivation of such stops. Many civil libertarians condemned the Supreme Court in its decision in Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), where it refused to consider whether a stop was clearly based on a pretext in judging the constitutionality of the later search. We have seen abusive searches in such stops in past cases.
Making the case more curious is that Volusia County Medical Examiner Marie Herrmann found that the car did not actually hit Brown but rolled over him causing accidental mechanical asphyxia. She ruled that it was an accident. However, the family claims that an assistant medical examiner, Dr. Shiping Bao, told them that he determined the killing was a “traumatic homicide” but was overruled by his boss, Herrmann. Herrmann later fired Bao.
The family received $550,000 from the city of DeLand for Marlon Brown’s death. The family’s attorney (who was involved with the Trayvon Martin case), Benjamin Crump, insists that “Marlon Brown was executed in a vegetable garden.” The officer clearly acted improperly in the case, but would criminal charges have been warranted as opposed to termination. He drove what seems to be a short distance beyond the other cruiser. Yet, he continues at a relatively high rate of speed over open ground in close pursuit. That was clearly reckless and it is worth noting that many officers do not hesitate to arrest citizens for such reckless driving. Is that enough for criminal charges? The officer can claim that he was not pursuing Brown for the seatbelt violation but the car chase through two jurisdictions. Do you think employment termination is sufficient punishment in this case?