The family of a Black Florida man who died in 2019 after being tased by Ocoee and Windermere police officers after they were called because he was suffering a mental health crisis said Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell denied their request for a new investigation on Aug. 31, reneging on promises they claim she made when she was campaigning for the office last year.
The family of 33-year-old Jean “Samuel” Celestin called the denial a display of “weak leadership,” the Orlando Sentinel reported on Sept. 7.
“It makes me realize that when she stood out there with us, when Black Lives Matter was … marching and she was marching along with us, she knew that she would not try any of these cases,” Joanne Celestin, Celstin’s older sister told the Orlando Sentinel. “She has one job, one job only, and that’s to bring justice. That is her job and she refused to do so. She has failed us all.”
The denial comes after former State Attorney Aramis Ayala cleared the officers involved in Celestin’s death of wrongdoing last year.
“We are mindful of the fact that police officers have a difficult job, and that their actions during rapidly evolving events are often harshly and unfairly judged,” wrote Linda Drane Burdick, assistant state attorney wrote in a letter to Ocoee police Chief Charles Brown and Orange County Sheriff John Minalast year.
“We also are aware that many first responders may not have sufficient training in responding to situations involving people with mental illness in acute distress.”
Late in the evening of April 11, 2019, after Celestin, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, punched his mother in the face, Joanne Celestin called 911 on her brother so that he could be committed to a mental health facility involuntary via the Baker Act.
“When I called for help, I made it very clear this was a medical call and that he needed to be escorted to the hospital,” she said. “And instead, I have to live every single day — every day — knowing that the call I made caused my brother to lose his life in a malicious way.”
According to a lawsuit filed by the family, when Celestin opened the door for police when they arrived at the home, he questioned whether or not they were real cops and said the water in the home was poisoned before closing the door. When he opened the door a second time he had a remote control and a knife in his hand.
After officers tased him twice, Celestin sat down and said, “I’ll stop! I’ll stop! … Arrest me. I’m so sorry,” the lawsuit says.
But after officers threatened to shoot him if he didn’t lie on his stomach, Celestin got up and ran before being tackled the ground and tased again, body camera footage shows. Officers then tied hogtied his ankles and wrists together before realizing he wasn’t breathing.
He died suddenly of cardiorespiratory arrest while lying in the grass.
Jean M. Celestin, Celestin’s brother, said they now want a set of “fresh eyes” to take a look at the case.
“She promised,” he said about Worrell, who was elected to the position last November. “If she hadn’t run on this, we wouldn’t be out here. She said she was going to be a different state attorney. She said it. So you hold yourself accountable or the public will.”
According to Burdick, the officers didn’t use their body weight to subdue Celestin and there was no evidence that they “committed intentional misconduct or acted with any degree of malice or prejudice.”
But according to family’s attorney Andrew G. Celli, Worrell had previously expressed to the family that she believed Celestin was treated differently because of his race.
In a letter written to Worrell on Tuesday, Celli wrote, “You described the circumstances of Samuel’s death as ‘wrong’ and ‘disgusting,’ and you characterized the actions of the officers as ‘outrageous,’ ‘unacceptable,’ and constituting ‘misconduct.'”
The letter continues, “You also forthrightly acknowledged that the fact that Samuel was Black impacted how he was treated by law enforcement.”
Worrell has not publicly responded to the family’s letter or continued call for another investigation. A petition has been launched by the Juneteenth Protest Coalition demanding the case be reopened.