News & Politics

Florida Police on Defense After Black Men's Mugshots Used for Target Practice

Woman finds 15-year-old photo of her brother peppered with bullet holes.

Photo Credit: via YouTube

Police in North Miami Beach have been forced to defend using the mugshots of black men for target practice after a board riddled with gunshots that displayed photographs of six young men was found after a training exercise last month.

The photographs were discovered by south Florida resident Sgt Valerie Deant, a member of the National Guard 13th army band who arrived at the Medley Firearms Training Center after members of the force had been practising. Deant told local media she was horrified to discover her brother’s mugshot, taken 15 years ago, was one of those that had been fired at.

“I was like, why is my brother being used for target practice?” Deant told NBC South Florida, who first reported the story, “There were like gunshots there. And I cried a couple of times.”

Deant’s brother, Woody, who was 18 at the time of his arrest by North Miami Beach police for drag racing, is now married with children. Two bullet holes can be seen in his photograph on the recovered target board.

“The picture actually has, like, bullet holes,” he said. “One in my forehead and one in my eye … I was speechless.”

“Now I’m being used as a target? I’m not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work nine to five.”

North Miami Beach police did not immediately respond to questions from the Guardian, but a spokeswoman told the Huffington Post that the force uses a variety of mugshot line-ups for target practice, including some that feature only white men, some that show only Hispanic men, and another featuring only women.

“The public thinks there should be one woman and one white man and one black, but that’s not really what test is about,” says Major Kathy Katerman of the department’s media unit. “We have targets of all races.”

North Miami Beach police chief J Scott Dennis told NBC South Florida that while the use of Deant’s mugshot was poor judgment as he had been arrested in their jurisdiction, the policies of the force were not violated and were not discriminatory.

“There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals who were involved with this,” Dennis said. He maintained that using real-life photographs was an important part of training.

NBC surveyed a number of federal and state law enforcement agencies as well as five local police forces, who all said they do not use real-life mugshots in gunfire training.

In 2013 a Port Canaveral police department sergeant in Florida was fired after distributing a “target practice” image of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. The unarmed teenager was shot dead by neighbourhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman in 2012.


Oliver Laughland is senior reporter for Guardian US. Follow him on Twitter@oliverlaughland

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