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PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. (AP) — A South Florida sheriff's deputy was charged Friday with manslaughter in the 2013 shooting death of a man who was carrying only an air rifle and might have been unable to hear commands to drop it because he was listening to music through earbuds.
The grand jury indictment released Friday charges Broward sheriff's deputy Peter Peraza with manslaughter with a firearm in the shooting of 33-year-old Jermaine McBean, who was black. Peraza, who is listed as white in jail records, faces up to 30 years in state prison if convicted.
Peraza, a 14-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff's Office, turned himself in at the county jail Friday morning and later appeared in bond court where bail was set at $25,000.
Sheriff Scott Israel said in a statement that Peraza has been suspended without pay while the criminal case moves forward.
"I truly believe every hardworking deputy and officer in our nation is committed and dedicated to the community they serve. This is why they put their lives on the line each and every day. They believe in justice and how our judicial system should work," Israel said.
"For everyone in this case - the McBean family, the Peraza family, the BSO family, everyone in our community - we want truth and justice to prevail," he said.
Peraza's attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, predicted at the bond hearing that his client will be acquitted and said charges such as this against police officers "are going to have a chilling effect because they are going to be afraid to do their jobs."
"The gun looked very real. And when an officer perceives someone carrying what could be a real rifle walking down the street and pointing it at someone, it doesn't matter if it's real or not," Schwartzreich added.
It's rare for a law enforcement officer to be charged with a crime for shooting a suspect. The last such conviction in Florida was in 1989 in Miami in a case that touched off fierce rioting just after the shooting. That officer, William Lozano, was later acquitted of manslaughter after a second trial.
Peraza shot McBean July 31, 2013, outside his apartment complex near Fort Lauderdale after 911 callers reported seeing him carrying what appeared to be a real rifle down a busy street and near a pool filled with children. It turned out to be an authentic-looking air rifle. McBean was wearing earbuds that his family has said might have interfered with his hearing.
The FBI also is investigating whether McBean's civil rights were violated — which could result in federal charges against Peraza — and McBean's family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the deputy and Israel over the killing.
"The grand jury clearly rejected the completely false narrative the BSO has out there about the circumstances of the shooting and that has hurt the family terribly," said family attorney David Schoen. "Hopefully this is the first step toward some measure of justice, although nothing can ever undo what has been done."
The lawsuit contends, among other things, that law enforcement officials covered up evidence about the earbuds, which were found later in McBean's pocket. A photo taken by a resident of the apartment complex moments after the shooting shows an earbud in one of McBean's ears.
Israel previously denied any improprieties in the deputies' actions, and Peraza received an agency award for his actions that day.
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