JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The FBI will independently review the shooting death of a 22-year-old man by a Jacksonville officer last month in Springfield, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced Friday.
Sheriff Mike Williams said it's unusual to announce such reviews to the public, but he wanted to assure the community that the process is above board.
"This case has garnered a lot of attention and there are a lot of questions in the community about the way we investigate shootings," Williams said. "I think the answer to that (is that) an independent review of our investigation is appropriate in this case.”
JSO will still be conducting its own investigation into the shooting.
The FBI will not investigate the shooting or the Sheriff's Office, but as the lead agency that investigates civil rights, the FBI will review JSO's internal investigation once it’s completed, and turn all of its findings over to the Department of Justice.
Fatal shooting after chase
Vernell Bing Jr. was shot once in the side of the head by Officer Tyler Landreville after leading officers on a 3.7-mile, high-speed chase that ended when it appeared he intentionally drove into Landreville's cruiser on a Springfield street, according to police.
JSO Chief Chris Butler said Bing was in a red Chevrolet Camaro wanted in connection with an April shootout when he was spotted in Northwest Jacksonville.
After the collision, the Camaro's metrics showed it was going 53 mph and not braking when it struck Landreville's oncoming cruiser on 9th Street.
The police cruiser was disabled, and Bing's car left the road and struck a building. Butler said Landreville got out of his car and walked toward the Camaro without pulling his weapon. He ordered the man, who was out of his car, to surrender, and something caused Landreville to pull his gun and fire five times, hitting Bing once in the head, Butler said.
Bing, who was unarmed at the time, died the next day at UF Health.
Family, groups respond to announcement
Several community and civil-rights groups have joined Bing's family to ask for an independent investigation into why Landreville fired his weapon.
After Friday's announcement, Bing's mother tearfully said that she is happy JSO is getting the FBI involved and that she wants to know the facts of the investigation.
“I'm just speechless,” Shirley McDaniel said. “They basically took part of me.”
Now that the FBI is involved, civil-rights leaders said they are hopeful more information will come out about the shooting.
“We are very happy to see that the FBI has introduced itself into the situation,” said Ben Frazier, spokesman for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “We have never been happy with the internal investigations. We have never been happy with the fox guarding the hen house.”
The chairman of The Kemetic Empire, a community activist group, agreed, saying it’s time that someone other than the Sheriff’s Office has a hand in reviewing the case.
“It's a step in the right direction,” Diallo Sekou said. “We hope this path of transparency that we basically had to force on the city will continue. We encourage other people to come out.”
And even though JSO will still conduct its own investigation of the shooting, many that called for an outside agency to investigate are satisfied with how it appears the process is playing out.
“We don't expect the sheriff to stop his investigation as a result,” Frazier said. “Let him continue his investigation. If he comes up with more facts, we think the truth will come out.”
Frazier said the SCLC is happy the FBI review is happening and being announced publicly.
“They always come up with the very same results,” Frazier said. “We need to have this outside scrutiny. It's necessary for accountability and trust to be developed and improved between JSO and this community.”
Bobby Worthy, the president of the Justice League United, filed a two-page document with the U.S. Attorney's Office last month, requesting that in addition to a full criminal and civil investigation into Bing's shooting, the federal government investigate the State Attorney's Office's handling of police-involved shootings.
“I'm hoping that the feds come and take over the whole investigation,” Worthy said last month. “What I really want is for them to take over the entire investigation, because I think that Angela Corey and the Sheriff's Office have something going on. They have never, from what I know, they have a never prosecuted one officer for a wrongful shooting of someone.”
Bing's family members said they just want the facts released in the case. They said if Landreville did anything in violation of the law, he should be held accountable.
“I'm glad they are moving forward,” McDaniel said. “But that's not going to bring my son back.”
Bing’s mother said she still can’t believe her son is gone, killed just weeks before his son Vernell Bing III was born.
Bing’s family and friends are holding a rally in his honor at noon Saturday at 9th and Liberty streets, where he was fatally shot.
Steve Zona, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 530, also posted a statement on Facebook Friday night in response to the FBI reviewing the investigation.
FBI to review JSO investigation
Michelle S. Klimt, special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division, joined Williams at a news conference Friday to announce the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department Civil Rights Division will review the case.
“If information comes to light of potential federal civil rights violations, the FBI is prepared to investigate, and we will submit the results of any investigation to federal prosecutors," Klimt said.
Klimt explained that for a color of law violation to exist, the review must prove that Landreville:
- Was acting under an official capacity
- Knew what he was doing was wrong and did it anyway
- Acted intentionally and unreasonably
According to information from the FBI, 72 indictments for color of law violations stemmed from FBI cases in 2014, including for excessive force, sexual assaults, false arrest and fabrication of evidence, deprivation of property and failure to keep from harm.
Williams said he is confident in the Sheriff's Office's investigative process, but he called in the FBI to reassure the community.
“My job is to bring forth to this community a finding that is 100 percent fact based and the results of evidence in this case," Williams said. "I am deploying this additional measure to this community, so that they can be assured that the case and the outcome will be exactly that.”
Williams said this is the first time he has worked as sheriff with the FBI on a civil rights review.
Former FBI agent Toni Chrabot offered insight about what the public can now expect.
“The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office doesn't have jurisdiction over civil rights, federal civil rights violations, so certainly there will have to be interviews done by the FBI of JSO officers that were present, anyone with knowledge, and they'll conduct a thorough investigation, an independent investigation,” said Chrabot, who is now CEO of Confidence LLC, a crisis management and security firm.
Chrabot said the protest and outcry over the case won't affect federal agents.
“From my own experience, the bureau's not swayed by public opinion,” Chrabot said. “They're going to conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”
Attorney Randy Reep, who is not affiliated with the case, said the FBI will be able to provide necessary investigative tools to the attorneys involved to determine if a violation occurred.
"I think you'll find that the FBI will do the investigation and the attorneys in the Department of Justice will make the determination based on the evidence brought in by the FBI to see if there was a violation of USC 1983, a civil rights violation," Reep said.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said the FBI review is a positive step forward for the community.
“When Mike Williams came into office last year, one thing he said is that he was going to be transparent,” Smith said. “I think this is a sign of that.”
I-TEAM: Results of previous FBI review never released
The FBI previously investigated a JSO case for federal civil rights violations in 2004 under then-Sheriff John Rutherford. The case involved the deaths of Sammy Lee Evans and Ezra Jones, and the investigation was announced at the Federal Courthouse in Jacksonville on Dec. 9, 2004.
But the findings of that investigation were never released.
Channel 4 reporter Jim Piggott covered the case 12 years ago, which involved the deaths of two African-American men in police custody.
Evans was killed by a rookie officer who later resigned. Witnesses said Evans was slammed to the ground and died from his injuries.
Jones died in jail after he was placed in a restraining chair.
At the time, Isaiah Rumlin, who heads the NAACP in Jacksonville, said it was “open season for African-Americans.”
The city was on edge, and the FBI probe was requested to help answer questions and calm the community.
“What I am worried about is the public trust for this agency,” Rutherford said then. “I am going to call this a defining moment for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. I want people to be confident going forward that the officers that wear this uniform, that put on this badge, have the character and integrity to be there.”
Rutherford invited the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate his department to see if any civil rights violations occurred in the men's deaths.
News4Jax filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Feb. 19, 2008, for the results of the FBI's investigation. The FBI responded on Feb. 26, 2008, saying the request had been sent to Washington, D.C.
The Justice Department responded on May 9, 2008, with a letter explaining that the records were in a Privacy Act system that is exempt from access provisions of the Privacy Act.
The letter was marked "Full Denial," and the report was sealed.
The I-TEAM asked Friday if the results of the FBI review in the 2004 case would ever be released.
The FBI said it could not comment further, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office referred News4Jax back to the FBI.
Rumlin lamented Friday the lack of transparency after that investigation.
“We never did get the results of that investigation -- never did,” Rumlin said. “As it relates to what is happening today, we are hopeful the sheriff -- once the investigation is completed, there will be a full reporting to the entire community to see exactly what happened.”
A Sheriff's Office representative said Friday that the results of the JSO and State Attorney's Office criminal investigation into Bing's shooting and the results of the internal response to resistance hearing will be released to the public when the investigations are complete.
The FBI would not say whether the results of its review would be similarly released to the public.