Deputy-involved shooting in Florida raises concerns

PC(USA) calls for ‘complete transparency’ in Immokalee man’s death

By Darla Carter | Cross-post from Presbyterian News Service 

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has joined a chorus of concerned voices calling for law enforcement officials to be more transparent about the deputy-involved shooting of a longtime member of a south Florida farming community last month.

There has been an outpouring of grief and concern since the fatal shooting of Nicolas Morales Besanilla on Sept. 17. Photo courtesy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

A statement from the Church, calling for “complete transparency” in the death of Nicolas Morales Besanilla, 37, of Immokalee was released Wednesday in conjunction with a news conference attended by relatives and concerned community members and groups in Florida.

“In particular, we join in the call for the release of the autopsy results, all dashboard camera footage, and all audio and text communications from and to the deputies,” declares the PC(USA) statement released in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

According to a WINK News report, Brent Probinsky, an attorney for the family, was among those who spoke at the news conference. He said the victim was shot three times, within 13 seconds of law enforcement’s arrival.

“Is there justification for use of deadly force?” Probinsky asked. “We have a man who’s 5-foot-1-inch tall, Nicolas. He weighs 120 pounds.”

Morales Besanilla was killed Sept. 17, when three deputies responded to a call from a woman reporting that a man with a shovel was banging on her door and demanding to be let inside, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

One of the deputies shot Morales Besanilla and another released a dog on him after he allegedly ran toward the officers with a “raised weapon,” also described as a “sharp, shiny object,” which turned out to be a pair of landscaping shears, according to the office.

The PC(USA) is concerned about inconsistencies in reports from the office and “discrepancies about the manner in which Mr. Morales Besanilla approached the deputies,” according to the Church’s statement, which is signed by the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, and the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

The sheriff’s office has said that it is conducting criminal and administrative investigations and that the criminal investigative file would be forwarded to the state attorney’s office for independent review.

Read the PC(USA)’s full statement below [English] [Español]

Statement from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Regarding the Death of Nicolas Morales Besanilla

Oct. 28, 2020

On behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we send our deepest condolences to Nicolas Morales Besanilla’s son, his extended family, and all who knew and loved him. We grieve the death, at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, of Morales Besanilla, who we understand was the father of a 13-year-old son and a longtime Immokalee community member. Our denomination has a long-term and deep relationship with the farm workers of Immokalee, and we join them in mourning the loss of Morales Besanilla.

Regarding this tragic loss of life, we wish to express our concern about the lack of transparency on the part of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. The circumstances around the killing of Morales Besanilla, along with troubling inconsistencies in the three reports we’ve seen from the sheriff’s office, make even more critical the full disclosure of the details surrounding this incident. We echo the community’s call for complete transparency. In particular, we join in the call for the release of the autopsy results, all dashboard camera footage, and all audio and text communications from and to the deputies.

Having read the three reports from the sheriff’s office, two from Sept. 17 and one from Sept. 22, it is hard to imagine why deputies with firearms and accompanied by an attack dog, in the space of 13 seconds, would feel the need to shoot a single individual coming at them with a garden tool.

The inconsistencies in the reports are also very concerning. In the first report, there was a single shovel; a sharp object was added in the second report. Then five days later, a new report identified the sharp object as landscaping shears. Equally troubling, the reports reveal serious discrepancies about the manner in which Morales Besanilla approached the deputies.

We ask the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for complete transparency and for the release of all the above requested items, which would begin to demonstrate the goodwill of the office. The family of Morales Besanilla and the community — and all of us — need to know that Morales Besanilla’s death will be investigated fairly and fully. Finally, we hope this terrible incident will spur changes in the policies and practices of the sheriff’s office to ensure greater accountability and to help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett
President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

Declaración de la Iglesia Presbiteriana (EE.UU.) sobre la muerte de Nicolas Morales Besanilla

28 de octubre de 2020

En nombre de la Iglesia Presbiteriana (EE.UU.), enviamos nuestras más profundas condolencias al hijo del Nicolas Morales Besanilla, a su familia extendida y a todos los que lo conocieron y lo amaron. Lamentamos la muerte, a manos de los ayudantes del sheriff, de Morales Besanilla, quien, según tenemos entendido, era el padre de un hijo de 13 años y un antiguo miembro de la comunidad de Immokalee. Nuestra denominación tiene una larga y profunda relación con los trabajadores agrícolas de Immokalee, y nos unimos a ellos en el duelo por la pérdida del  Morales Besanilla.

En relación con esta trágica pérdida de vidas, queremos expresar nuestra preocupación por la falta de transparencia de la Oficina del Sheriff del Condado de Collier. Las circunstancias que rodean el asesinato de Morales Besanilla, junto con las preocupantes inconsistencias en los tres informes que hemos visto de la oficina del sheriff, hacen aún más crítica la completa divulgación de los detalles que rodean este incidente. Nos hacemos eco del llamamiento de la comunidad para una completa transparencia. En particular, nos unimos al llamamiento para la publicación de los resultados de la autopsia, todas las imágenes de las cámaras del tablero y todas las comunicaciones de audio y texto desde y hacia los diputados.

Habiendo leído los tres informes de la oficina del sheriff, dos del 17 de septiembre y uno del 22 de septiembre, es difícil imaginar por qué los diputados con armas de fuego y acompañados por un perro de ataque, en el espacio de 13 segundos, sentirían la necesidad de disparar a un solo individuo que se les acercara con una herramienta de jardín.

Las inconsistencias en los informes son también muy preocupantes. En el primer informe, había una sola pala; en el segundo informe se añadió un objeto punzante. Luego, cinco días después, un nuevo informe identificó el objeto punzante como tijeras de jardinería. Igualmente preocupante, los informes revelan serias discrepancias sobre la forma en que el Morales Besanilla se acercó a los diputados.

Pedimos a la Oficina del Sheriff del Condado de Collier una completa transparencia y la liberación de todos los artículos solicitados anteriormente, lo que comenzaría a demostrar la buena voluntad de la oficina. La familia del Morales Besanilla y la comunidad, y todos nosotros, necesitamos saber que la muerte de Morales Besanilla será investigada de manera justa y completa. Por último, esperamos que este terrible incidente estimule cambios en las políticas y prácticas de la oficina del sheriff para asegurar una mayor responsabilidad y ayudar a prevenir tragedias similares en el futuro.

El Reverendo Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Secretario de la Asamblea General
Iglesia Presbiteriana (EE.UU.)

La Reverenda Dra. Diane Moffett
Presidente, Director Ejecutivo del Organismo de Misiones Presbiteriano


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