Immokalee, FL — Last September, Nicholas Morales-Bessannia, 37, was in dire need of mental health help. Instead of help, however, when Collier County Sheriff's deputies showed up to the scene, he received bullets and dog teeth. Morales-Bessannia would spend his last moments alive, bleeding out from police bullet holes as a K-9 tore into his body.
Dash camera footage was just released this week and civil rights groups are crying foul after the deputies who killed Morales-Bessannia were cleared of any wrongdoing. Police claim Morales-Bessannia, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers community, charged at them with a gardening tool and deadly force was their only option.
After watching the video, activists claim otherwise.
The death of Moralies-Bessannia is the "most egregious tragedy," Rev. Dan Lambert, whose Unitarian Fellowship does social justice work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told WINK in an interview this week. He says a mental health expert should have been there instead of cops.
Lambert says that had mental health experts arrived instead, “the result would’ve been probably just a footnote in the daily police reports, but instead, we have a dead citizen and two officers whose decisions and careers have been called into question.”
On that fateful night last September, police responded to a 911 call about a mentally ill man in the farm work village. When they arrived, a shirtless, shoeless, Morales-Bessannia walked out from behind a car and was confronted by police. He was holding a shovel and a pair of gardening sheers.
Police yelled at Morales-Bessannia to get on the ground, but he did not listen. Instead, he started walking toward them faster. On his way toward them, he dropped the shovel, which made him even less of a threat.
Three officers had the mentally ill man surrounded, had tasers, and had a police K-9, yet they resorted to immediate deadly force instead. Officers fired four shots into the man, causing him to drop to the ground. As he falls to the ground, only then did they release the dog, which then mauls him for over a minute.
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Only one of the officers felt the need to get the first aid kit. Even after this officer is giving Morales-Bessannia first aid, the tall officer on the left still has his laser sight on his pistol trained on the now entirely unarmed, shirtless, shoeless, dying man.
When other officers arrive on the scene they ask this officer if he was "alright," before taking him away, likely in an attempt to coach him on what to say to internal affairs.
Indeed, as the officer is told to get into his cruiser by his supervisor, the supervisor tells him to "get in the passenger seat and go head and kill the camera." Just before the camera turns off, the supervisor is heard telling the officer this "is going to be a tight one."
The State Attorney’s Office on Thursday cleared both deputies involved in the shooting, saying in their report that the use of force was “lawful and legal.”
But Lambert and his group contest this claim and point out the responding Collier County sheriff’s deputies chose guns over Tasers, didn’t try to speak to Morales-Bessannia in Spanish, allowed a K-9 to maul Morales-Bessannia after he’d been shot, and waited a full minute to administer first aid.
The Coalition released a statement after the video was released, saying in part "The videos confirm that Nicolas’s death was preventable at multiple points. The officers failed to use any reasonable efforts to de-escalate the situation… There is no denying that the killing of Nicolas Morales was entirely avoidable. There was no need to leave a boy orphaned, to leave a family in mourning, or to leave the community's trust in pieces. We strongly disagree with the State Attorney’s office, which inexplicably concluded that deadly force was justified. That conclusion is shocking and unacceptable, and we will seek justice for Nicolas, for his family, and for Immokalee.”
Warning, the video below is graphic.