The shooting of a black man in Macclenny, Florida, a town of 6,562 that sits less than 30 miles to the West of Jacksonville, Florida, has raised serious concerns around police accountability and transparency in a death under suspicious circumstances involving the son of a former Baker County deputy’s son. It’s a case you’ve likely never heard of, and that fact alone threatens to bury the investigation outside the reach of any just resolution.
Here’s what we know so far: During the afternoon of February 3, in Macclenny, Florida, police responded to a shooting call where they found 31-year-old Dominic Jerome “DJ” Broadus II shot dead outside of a home on the property of Southern States Nurseries Inc. The police report is heavily redacted and does not specify the number of times Broadus was shot, which officers responded to the crime scene or any of the responding officers’ statements. However, of note is the only other person being named on the report — the 29-year-old son of a retired Baker County Sheriff's Deputy, Ryan T. Fraser, who was fired from the Jacksonville Sheriff Department in 2008 after shooting an unarmed black man. The redacted police report does not state whether any additional persons were present on the scene. In the days following the shooting, the Sheriff's Office turned over the investigation to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), presumably because of the ties that the one listed person of interest has to the Sheriff's Office. However, the victim’s family is still largely in the dark about the investigation and its status. No one from the family knows when or why the FDLE was given the case. No one has been charged or arrested in connection with Broadus’ death, and the family’s request to release the completed state’s Medical Examiners report has been denied by the State Attorney.
A cursory read between the lines here suggests that local authorities may be looking for a way out of making an arrest (the justification defense has already been mentioned in quotes to media outlets), or to punting on any responsibility altogether to another agency. It is beyond curious that early comments from law enforcement sound very much like something directly out of the “wait until the facts come out” playbook, urging the court of public opinion to give the benefit of the doubt to any potential suspect. This is cause for concern if only because such courtesies are seldom extended with black suspects or white victims. While our system of due process promises just that, it is too often over-enjoyed by some and disproportionately withheld from others.
Bakers County Sheriff's Office boasts roughly 30 deputy sheriffs, and the fundraising site for Broadus’ independent autopsy describes the unnamed deputy’s son as “well-connected.” With a workforce that small, it is not a far reach to think that a deputy’s son would not be known by many of the deputies in that office. However, the perception of secrecy around the investigation is not simply poor optics, but has actual harmful effects for Broadus’ family. WIthout the medical report, the cause of death remains unclear, as does additional trauma indicators that might implicate additional assailants. This, combined with the heavily redacted report from police certainly seems like a stonewalling of information. Additionally, the family has been unable to receive a complete death certificate, which prevents Broadus’ surviving children from applying for benefits following his death.
It is of critical importance that law enforcement get this investigation right for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most immediate, and most important, is because Broadus’ family and the Macclenny community deserves answers, justice and to know the truth around the death of their loved one. However, the broader implications also cannot be ignored. Law enforcement already enjoys myriad protections in cases of civilian deaths; the blue wall of silence should not and cannot extend to covering cops’ family members in instances where they have committed deadly wrongs in violation of the law.
The choice to involve the FDLE in the investigation seems like a step in the right direction because it may preserve the independence of the investigation and lessen the potential for bias to affect the outcome. But, while the solace that we might find in this fact is met with cautious optimism, we’ve seen independent investigations before result in zero accountability for the killers of innocent persons where law enforcement was involved. We may not know enough about the facts leading up to Broadus’ death, but we deserve to feel secure in an outcome that results from a process that is conducted above board.
Even as the circumstances are presently unclear, Broadus’ death is not dissimilar to any number of victims, both black and white, that take place daily in America. Many of them never make the news, but they all deserve justice. This starts with thorough, honest and unbiased investigations into all potential angles. This family, and the surrounding community, deserve to know the truth.
Florida, our eyes (again) are watching you.