A Florida Sheriff’s Bizarre Defense of His Force’s Abusive Police Conduct

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Aug. 15 2013 5:49 PM

David Morgan Is Wrong, Terribly Wrong

Two Florida cops shot an innocent, unarmed man in his own driveway. And then their sheriff started talking.

Sheriff David Morgan
Sheriff David Morgan holds a press conference to discuss the case of an unarmed man shot by deputies in his own driveway.

Photo by Pensacola News Journal/pnj.com, Copyright 2013.

Two weeks ago, two Florida deputies shot 15 rounds at a 60-year-old unarmed Florida man who was looking for his cigarettes in his mother’s car, parked in his own driveway. Two of those bullets hit him in his left leg, which was shattered. Roy Howard Middleton says he was compliant when the cops told him to turn around. He says that as he was turning around to face deputies with his hands raised, they opened fire. (He believed his neighbors were playing a practical joke on him). The two deputies said they were responding to a 911 call about a car thief and that Middleton turned and “lunged” at them with a shiny object in his hand. Middleton is black. The two sheriff’s deputies are white.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate

Sheriff David Morgan of Escambia County  hastily took to the airwaves to explain that “the tragedy of this is the noncompliance to the directions of law enforcement officers," and that Middleton was “both a suspect and a victim." The two deputies were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Sheriff Morgan was quick to clarify for CNN that the officers followed the correct protocols. “Right now we are comfortable from a training perspective that our officers did follow standard protocols. I believe the standard we use and train to is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, which is a reasonable test.”  Morgan went on to note that “[t]his is a common occurrence. We live in a very violent society.” Presumably the irony was unintentional.

A week later six Escambia County deputies climbed through the window of a private residence, without a warrant, dragging a sleeping couple out of their bed, shooting at their two dogs, one of which later died. The police were pursuing a suspect in an armed disturbance earlier in the evening on the couple's street, found an upside-down bucket next to a window of their home, knocked on the door, and when nobody answered, they just entered through the window.  According to a press release, “Upon encountering the people in the house, the dogs became aggressive. One dog bit at one of the deputy's leg. He pushed the dog away, but it came at him again so he shot the dog in self-defense, at which time the second dog began to run towards him. For his personal safety, he shot the second dog."

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The couple, who are white, say they were asleep in bed. Then the cops threw them on the ground, handcuffed them and dragged them into the hallway, and then started shooting at the dogs. No arrests were made. That case is also being investigated.

Now, Sheriff David Morgan is a colorful character. He has garnered public attention for actions as serious as a Justice Department finding in May that the county jail he oversees is plagued by constitutional issues and still suffers from the results of a decades-long racial segregation policy, and as frivolous as wearing his military ribbons on his police uniform in defiance of Defense Department regulations. But one might hope that on the heels of the recent unpleasantness, he would be very, very careful in his public discussions of race, crime, and police conduct.

Well, not so. This week Sherriff Morgan spoke at a weekly Rotary Club of Pensacola meeting and made it clear that the real victim of the racial injustice here is Sheriff David Morgan. You should watch it. It’s a case study in grievance- and blame-shifting. The video includes a horribly painful opening joke referring to the recent police actions and the attention they garnered as “turds” he was being forced to swallow. Your call whether the humor is rankly offensive, mildly inappropriate, or fair game. But the meat of the speech appears to be an attempt to recalibrate the media outrage generated by armed officers shooting at an unarmed black man 15 times, into media outrage that is somehow both race-blind, and targeted at black offenders.

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