A judge on Friday cited the state’s Stand Your Ground law in dismissing a battery charge against a Broward sheriff’s deputy who was involved in the rough arrest of a Black teen in early 2019 that made national headlines.
BSO Sgt. Gregory LaCerra, who had been suspended without pay, then reassigned to a desk job over the past 18 months, was charged with battery for pushing away and pepper-spraying J.P. Taravella High School teen Delucca Rolle after telling him to stay away from a cellphone that had fallen to the ground during a melee that had broken out involving dozens of teens at a McDonald’s parking lot in April 2019.
LaCerra is still facing counts of falsifying records and conspiracy to falsify records.
During the scuffle with police, which was captured on one of the teen’s cellphone cameras, Delucca, 15 at the time, was seen being pepper-sprayed by LaCerra, then taken to the ground by Broward Deputy Christopher Krickovich, who appeared to drive the teen’s head into the pavement. Krickovich, who is facing battery charges for the arrest, was fired last year by Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony.
The deputies claimed Delucca “bowed” his body and clenched his “fist” in an aggressive manner. Delucca denied that, saying he was assaulted by police while simply bending down to pick up the cellphone.
Delucca’s take-down and arrest caught the attention of NBA superstar Lebron James and Golden State Warrior coach Coach Steve Kerr, with both blasting law enforcement for their handling of the situation. The Rolle family hired famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.
In her ruling, Broward County Court Judge Jill Levy said that LaCerra’s use of non-deadly force was “objectively reasonable.” During the hearing before Levy, several business employees and store owners came forward and told of problems police were having at the Tamarac mall where the fight broke out. And police claimed there were more than 200 high school students there expecting to either take part in or watch a fight that had been promoted on social media.
“After hearing a direct order from LaCerra, ‘don’t come over here or you’re going to be sprayed, don’t come over here at all,’ he nevertheless bent down to grab the phone from the ground. LaCerra was justified in pushing him back,” the judge said. “There were 200 kids around him, screaming, yelling and watching him. As such, using pepper spray to defuse the situation and pushing Delucca to the ground to arrest him was a justified response to Delucca’s apparent imminent threat of harm.”
Union President Jeff Bell — who was also suspended by Tony after making some unflattering remarks about actions taken by the sheriff during the COVID-19 crisis — praised Levy’s ruling.
“He acted within policy, and our own training division even agreed with that,” Bell said of LaCerra.
In a statement issued early Friday evening, Crump said he was “disappointed” with the decision and hoped charges against officer Krickovich would move forward.
“In the midst of a social movement in which we are desperately trying to empower a generation and convince them that their lives matter, this decision sends a different message. It says that the marches, the rallies and the sacrifices have made no difference,” said Crump. “It highlights once again that there are two justice systems in America, and the police will not be held accountable for maltreatment of Black citizens.”
By 6 p.m., Delucca’s attorney, Sue Anne Robinson, had not forwarded a statement about the judge’s decision to the Miami Herald.
The April 18, 2019, confrontation between Delucca and police took place after dozens of students from nearby J.P. Taravella Senior High School gathered in the Tamarac McDonald’s parking lot in anticipation of a fight. BSO deputies nearby were aware of the tension. Initial charges against Rolle were not pursued by the state prosecutors.
In July 2019, Krickovich, LaCerra and Deputy Ralph Mackey were charged by state prosecutors for the rough arrest. Krickovich is still facing two counts of battery and two more counts of falsifying records. With LaCerra’s battery charge dropped, he’s still facing charges of falsifying records. And Mackey, who was charged with a single count of falsifying records, was cleared by a jury trial earlier this year.
*story by The Miami Herald