Osceola County deputy sheriffs fired at a car leaving the parking lot of a Target store in Kissimmee, killing 20-year-old Jayden Baez, after pulling up in unmarked vehicles and without announcing they were law enforcement, according to lawyers representing Baez’s family.
A news release containing the allegation was sent ahead of a Wednesday afternoon press conference with attorneys Albert Yonfa and Mark NeJame of the Orlando-based firm NeJame Law, who are also representing Joseph Lowe.
Lowe, 19, was among two teens accused of stealing pizza and packs of Pokémon cards from Target before getting into a black Audi, with Baez behind the wheel. His lawyers say deputies “moved to box them in” in unmarked cars before shooting at the car “without regard for the safety of the occupants or civilians in the area.”
“Under the watchful eye of Sheriff deputies, the boys entered their car without being stopped or detained, even though probable cause would have existed to stop and detain them if the deputies were witness to an alleged petit theft,” the news release said.
Baez was killed in the shooting while the other passengers were injured. Lowe, who lawyers said had his hands raised, was shot three times in each hand and had a finger blown off. Photos of Lowe’s injuries are expected to be shown at the press conference, with one having been posted to NeJame’s Twitter account.
The lawyers said they are preparing for a “multi-million-dollar lawsuit” against the Sheriff’s Office, calling the shooting “unwarranted, illegal, and unjustified.”
Sheriff Marcos López, who had not spoken about the shooting since the night it occurred, released a statement Wednesday afternoon in which he revealed that there is no body worn camera footage of the shooting. The deputies involved, he said, were “performing training exercises in a nearby parking lot” prior to the incident and were wearing tactical gear — but not cameras.
López, who called himself “a believer in transparency and facts,” did not explain what prompted deputies to fire at the car despite saying he is “aware of the circumstances leading up the shooting.”
“Once the facts of what took place are determined, I will comment,” López said. “However, I am not going to speculate and potentially provide erroneous information to the community when I personally do not know the facts.”
The names of the deputies have not been released under Marsy’s Law. A Florida constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018, Marsy’s Law is meant to protect victims of crime but has been used to shield the names of cops involved in deadly incidents.
The agency has also left unfilled requests for records, including an incident report, and still has not publicly identified Baez as the man killed by deputies. López said he didn’t release the names of the alleged suspects because he “was unaware if they have also invoked Marcy’s Law” [sic].”
The agency’s failure to release the incident report, identify the suspects and the man killed in the shooting or provide basic details about what led to the gunfire is well out of line with the practices of all other major police agencies in Central Florida.
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Up until Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office has been referring questions to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is investigating the shooting. But FDLE spokesperson David Fierro said Tuesday that any information other than “the officer-involved aspect of the investigation” would have to come from the Sheriff’s Office.
Many of the previously reported details of the shooting, including that Lowe and Michael Gómez are accused of petty theft for stealing from Target, have come from affidavits filed in court. Baez’s name and the fact he was behind the wheel at the time of the shooting was released by Yonfa, one of the attorneys, on Tuesday.
The shooting carries some parallels to the 2020 killing of Salaythis Melvin, who was shot in the back by Orange County Deputy James Montiel as he was running away after unmarked vehicles pulled up on him and a group of friends in a parking lot at the Florida Mall . Melvin’s family questioned whether he knew the plainclothes officers were law enforcement.
Melvin’s death sparked protests in the weeks that followed, amid the nationwide uprisings against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Body camera video, released 11 days after the shooting following mounting pressure from, showed Montiel taking a shooting stance before firing at Melvin. Montiel told investigators Melvin had turned his head and had a gun in his hand, a detail Melvin’s family refutes.
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell announced in January that Montiel wouldn’t be charged, since there were no other witnesses and no videos to confirm or refute Montiel’s version of events, aside from body camera footage taken from a distance.