By Linley Sanders
The mayor of Broward County, Florida, is calling for the firing of Deputy Sheriff Christopher Krickovich and an investigation into battery charges after a widely-circulated video shows white officers macing a black 15-year-old in the face with pepper spray, then smashing his head against the ground outside a McDonalds near J.P. Taravella High School. Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented Trayvon Martin’s family after Martin was shot to death in Florida, is now representing the teen to ensure the initial charges against him of assaulting a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, and trespassing are formally dropped, and that police officers are held accountable.
The video was recorded on Thursday, April 18. At the time of the assault, the teen — whose first name is reportedly Lucca but was not released by police — was picking up the cell phone of another high school student who was arrested for trespassing; the phone had reportedly fallen to the ground as a police officer arrested the first high school student. In the video, Lucca bends to grab it, then appears to stand back up, facing Krickovich.
When Lucca stands, Krickovich sprays him with pepper spray at close range, then throws him to the ground. The video shows two other white officers pinning Lucca to the ground, then beating his head against the concrete and punching his head as nearby students screamed: “What are you doing, he’s bleeding.”
Shortly after the video was uploaded to Twitter, people began circulating the hashtag #JusticeForLucca on social media, and celebrities and activists expressed outrage at the officers’ actions and called for people to speak out against police brutality against black bodies. On April 20, Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James posted on Twitter, “So wrong!! Hurts me to my soul!! To think that could be my sons. Scary times man.” Miami Dolphins player Kenny Stills demanded the officer’s firing on Twitter, writing, “This man couldn’t wait to rough up a black child. Beyond sick of seeing this.”
Broward Mayor Mark Bogen called the behavior “outrageous and unacceptable” on Twitter, suggesting that Krickovich be fired. On Monday, Bogen additionally asked the state attorney to review whether Krickovich should be prosecuted for battery, which is considered a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida.
“In law enforcement, if the alleged perpetrator is not resisting, then there is no justification to use force,” Bogen wrote on Twitter. “When the student was on the ground, he did not resist at all. Therefore, the officer had no justification to smash his head into the cement and punch him in the head or face.”
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony initially placed Krickovich and another involved officer, Sergeant Greg LaCerra, on restricted administrative assignment following the brutality. On Tuesday, April 23, he suspended them both; Krickovich and LaCerra turned in their weapons, badges, and any identification related to the Broward Sheriff’s Department, according to The Miami Herald. The Broward County Sheriff’s Department says an investigation into the officers’ conduct is ongoing.
“Any time a white deputy is involved in contact and using force with black youth, this thing blows up,” Tony said at a recording meeting. “There’s been a large cry to just go out and fire him, to get rid of him, and all these other things. Folks, it doesn’t work that way. You all understand that. There has to be an investigative process and due process. It’s going to be done the right way.”
The police report written by Krickovich claims that the 15-year-old “took an aggressive stance” and “began clenching his fists” before the officer deployed pepper spray directly to the teen’s face. He wrote that the three police officers were “outnumbered” by the high school students surrounding them and that he “had to act quickly, fearing I would get struck or having a student potentially grab weapons off my belt.”
On Tuesday, April 23, Crump called for the State Attorney to charge the officers with aggravated assault and battery “to the full extent of the law” via an Instagram post.
“It is unconscionable what we’ve seen happen to Lucca at the hands of local law enforcement,” Crump said in a news release. “One would hope that an unarmed 15-year-old child would not be treated in this brutal manner, no matter the circumstances. Starting now, we will seek justice through every avenue possible for Lucca and his family.”
Crump has previously advocated for people using their voice at the ballot box in an article for Time. He wrote that voting for prosecutors who will hold police officers accountable will ultimately ensure people are held accountable. Elected officials — like mayors, congresswomen, and congressmen — also play a key role in ending police brutality. Constituents can email or call their elected official to ask for specific police accountability legislation, like the addition of body cameras to officers’ uniforms.