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Litigator Calls on DOJ to Investigate Alleged Police Violence Against Black Women in South Florida

Ben Crump

Ben Crump. Courtesy photo

An attorney with strong Florida ties and a history of civil rights litigation is asking the Department of Justice to investigate the internal procedures of South Florida police departments following a string of high-profile controversies.

Tallahassee litigator Ben Crump on Tuesday held a press conference outside the Miami-Dade Police Department in Cutler Bay, calling on the DOJ to investigate the treatment of women of color by law enforcement.

Crump is founder of Ben Crump Law PLLC, which has offices in California, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. He said Tuesday he had sent a letter to the DOJ requesting action in light of the March 12 death of Latasha Walton.

Walton, 32, was shot by a Florida Highway patrol trooper after being pulled over for a traffic stop. Officers claim she had been driving erratically and attempted to flee the scene, prompting Trooper Ronald Melendez-Bonilla to open fire on her vehicle.

Walton's relatives retained Crump, perhaps best-known for his representation of Trayvon Martin's family during the 2012 trial of George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder for shooting the 17-year-old boy who was on his way home from the store.

Walton's family joined Crump for the press conference with Ruben Roberts, chairman of the NAACP's Miami-Dade Branch; Fort Lauderdale litigator Sue-Ann Robinson; and Miami resident Dyma Loving, who was the subject of a viral video showing a male Miami Police officer throwing her to the ground and handcuffing her, after she called 911 to report that a neighbor had threatened her life with a shotgun.

Public information officials with the Miami-Dade Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Read the letter:

Crump said the cases show "alarming" examples of excessive force against women of color.

"We have become accustomed to seeing open season on young black, Hispanic and brown men … but now with this current trend of it also being black women, especially in South Florida, it’s appalling," Crump told the Daily Business Review. He described the videos documenting Walton's and Loving's encounters with law enforcement officers as "cautionary tales."

"If we don’t hold these officers accountable when they do outrageous things ... it escalates until the point where you see what happened to Latasha Walton," he said. "We’re actually calling on the Department of Justice to investigate this case because we’re not certain that the state of Florida should be investigating themselves. The video speaks for itself, no matter how they try to justify it or assassinate Walton's character."

Florida Highway Patrol officers present at the time of Walton’s death have said she attempted to use her white BMW to strike Melendez-Bonilla, prompting his use of deadly force.

Crump is based in the state's capital but has strong ties to South Florida. He attended South Plantation High School in Broward County. He has handled a slew of high-profile cases, including his representation of the family of Corey Jones, a black man killed by former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja in October 2015.

On March 7, a jury found Raja guilty of manslaughter while armed and attempted first-degree murder. Crump cited reports noting the verdict marked the first time a Florida officer had been convicted of an-duty shooting in three decades.

Crump's colleague, Robinson, told the DBR the families want the DOJ to look into each case of police brutality against women of color.

Sue-Ann Robinson, attorney. Photo: Angelo Pierre

"We don’t want anything to be swept under the rug," she said.

Robinson was one of the first students to graduate from the FIU College of Law, where she earned her J.D. in 2006. She then worked with the the Broward State Attorney’s Office. At Ben Crump Law, she investigates wrongful convictions and specializes in personal injury and civil rights litigation.

She noted, "there's a disconnect right now" between law enforcement and the people they ostensibly serve.

"I think everyone should be treated with dignity and be able to trust all police officers in their interactions, because their duty is to protect and serve us."

Instead, Robinson said, many minorities are "scared to have police interactions for any reason."

"These women called the police to help them and ended up being arrested," Robinson said. "In a better world, what I would want is for no one to have fear interacting with the police. It’s not all police officers, generally speaking, ... but there (are) ... individuals that are doing the wrong thing."

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Sue-Ann Robinson