Orange County, FL — Salaythis Melvin, a 22-year-old man from Orange Country was shot in the back by a deputy in plain clothes, executed in a mall parking lot earlier this month. Melvin was not suspected of committing a crime, he was not accused of a crime and police were not looking for him at the time of the shooting. Melvin’s only “crime” at the time of his initial interaction with police that day was to take off running when several men in unmarked vehicles pulled guns on Melvin and some friends in a mall parking lot.
The Orange County Sheriff’s department claims they were serving an arrest warrant that day to a person who was alleged to be with Melvin outside the mall. Melvin was not that person. Despite the incident unfolding on August 7, the department did not release the video until Tuesday night. The timing of the video’s release is important because it happened as Sheriff John Mina won the primary election for a chance to serve a second term as sheriff.
Lawyers Bradley Laurent and Carlus Haynes say the timing of the release is obvious — waiting until the sheriff had the election in the bag before showing how his deputy murdered a young man.
“To release it at that time it seems pretty obvious it was a strategic decision,” Laurent said.
Indeed, had the citizens of Orange county seen how the sheriff’s deputies conduct themselves when dealing with young black men running away from them, Mina may not have been elected.
Of the six videos released, only one of them shows the actual shooting. Taken from inside a police vehicle, the video shows that Melvin is clearly presenting no threat whatsoever to the deputy and is, in fact, running away from him. Nevertheless, Orange County Deputy James Montiel treated Melvin like an animal and opened fire, shooting him in the back as he ran away.
Melvin immediately falls to the ground and outstretches his arms. Instead of providing first aid immediately — which may have saved his life — several officers are seen surrounding him with their weapons drawn, with one telling him to “keep your f***ing hands out.”
“Stop moving!” an officer says. “Get your f***ing hand out! Get your hands out or you’re gonna get f***ing shot!”
Melvin, lying face down on the ground, doesn’t respond.
“It’s clear that Salaythis Melvin was not a threat. It’s clear that he was running, he was just trying to get away,” Attorney Brad Lauren said.
As the video shows, deputies involved in the operation were driving unmarked vehicles and in plain clothes. In fact, Melvin had no way of knowing they were cops as Montiel was not wearing anything that would identify him as a law enforcement officer until after the shooting.
In the video, there is no visible police markings on Montiel and based on the attorneys’ review, it appears Montiel didn’t put on identifying clothing until after he killed Melvin.
“Somebody told him to do that,” Haynes said. “Sheriff Mina, is this a good policy to have unmarked vehicles and unmarked officers, serving arrest warrants?”
The answer to that question is obvious.
The night of the shooting, the sheriff’s office made the claim that Melvin was armed and he had his hand on a stolen gun when Montiel killed him. They later tweeted out a photo of the gun. In the video, however, no gun is visible on Melvin’s person or near his body, and his hands are empty as he stretched them out on the asphalt. What’s more, Melvin was not suspected of a crime and was running away, so police had no reason to suspect him of anything that day.
The suspect our deputies were attempting to apprehend had this stolen gun in his possession. pic.twitter.com/PrsymC1qqF
— Orange County Sheriff's Office (@OrangeCoSheriff) August 7, 2020
Notice how they claim he was a suspect they were trying to apprehend. Even if Melvin had this gun, police had no idea it was stolen or that he even had it until after they killed him. Remember, Melvin was not the person police were attempting to arrest.
According to WFTV, about five minutes into the video, the attorneys for Melvin question whether he was called a racial slur, as he was on the ground. “We hope to get it to an expert and try to have them get rid of some of the background noise,” Carlus Haynes said.
The sheriff’s office issued a statement on Twitter Wednesday stating that it was aware of allegations that a deputy made inappropriate comments in the body camera footage. The department said it has launched an inquiry into the allegations and will make its findings public.
OCSO is aware of allegations related to the body worn camera video that was released yesterday. It is alleged that a deputy on the video made inappropriate comments. At this time, we have initiated an inquiry into this matter. Once complete, we will make the results public. pic.twitter.com/mfyyRSSaPL
— Orange County Sheriff's Office (@OrangeCoSheriff) August 19, 2020
The family’s attorneys have since challenged Mina to implement new policies that don’t allow unmarked cars and cops to serve warrants and to stop shooting non-threatening, fleeing people in their backs.
“First, he’s got to make it a policy that anybody that’s fleeing, you cannot shoot them in the back,” Haynes said, adding “It’s not … deer season. We’re not shooting people in the back, period.”
Since the shooting, the release of the body camera is the only information police released.
“I would have liked to hear him come out and say, ‘This was a bad shooting. This deputy has been fired,’ but yet he wants to tell everybody in Orlando that he’s doing the right thing and he’s being fully transparent,” Haynes said. “Well, we do know that there’s a lot of video and audio that we’re missing … how transparent is that?”
Haynes is referring to the fact that out of the six body camera angles that were released this week, none of them were from the shooter. Police have refused to elaborate why there is no video from Montiel’s body camera or if he was even wearing one.
“We haven’t been given a reason why there isn’t any camera footage from the shooter’s perspective or vantage point,” Laurent said.
Melvin’s parents, Michelin McKee and Ryan Findley, released a statement after the video was released noting that they haven’t been able to bring themselves to watch the body camera footage of their son being gunned down like he’s being hunted.
“Promise us, and the citizens of Orange County that no one — be they black or white, young or old, Baptist or Catholic — be gunned down in the manner our son was,” McKee and Findley said in a statement.