A Black Florida man suffering from mental illness died in jail last year. Now friends and family of Kevin Desir are still demanding justice and accountability for what they say is sheriff’s deputies’ culpability in his death.
Critics of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the agency charged with investigating Desir’s case, allege a cover-up, and this week they sought support from county elected officials in their fight for justice.
Rubin Jean, 45, is a lifelong friend of Kevin Desir, the man who died in a Broward County jail in Pompano Beach, Florida, in January of 2021. Family and friends say Desir had a history of mental illness and experienced an episode on Jan. 17, 2021.
The 43-year-old Desir had been in jail since January 13, 2021 on criminal mischief and felony marijuana possession charges, and the day the incident happened, the Sheriff’s Office says he was cutting himself inside his cell.
The medical examiner’s report says Desir was running his fingers along the metal edges of the mirror. Once deputies took him out of his cell to assess his injuries, Desir became violent and started kicking and spitting.
Deputies place Desir into a restraint chair and as deputies tried to restrain him, Desir became unresponsive. Desir, suffering from a brain injury the family maintains was inflicted by deputies, was taken to a local hospital, where he was removed from life support on Jan. 27.
The medical examiner’s report says Desir’s cause of death is undetermined.
“The circumstance of his death is what the tragedy is because he got killed in police custody,” said Rubin Jean, lifelong friend of Kevin Desir.
In the days and weeks following his death, his family and friends demanded answers.
“No one thought that he would be killed at the hands of police, everyone thought that might be the best place for his because you’d think he’d get some type of treatment,” Jean said.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office completed its investigation into Desir’s death in June of last year, and handed its findings to the Broward State Attorney’s Office. The Assistant State Attorney, Christopher Killoran, closed the case with no criminal charges against deputies involved, saying, “the facts of this case do not support any criminal charges.”
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office released its findings last week and Sheriff Gregory Tony said of the case, “Even though the internal and independent investigations conducted by BSO, the Medical Examiner’s Office and State Attorney’s Office determined no employee caused Kevin Desir’s death or violated any policy, it doesn’t negate the great loss felt by his family and friends.”
“They do an internal affairs investigation and they found there was no wrongdoing, I’m telling you, if they follow the procedures as they are, it’s going to happen again,” said Jeremy McLymont, Desir family attorney.
Video of Desir’s death exist but has not been made public by the Sheriff’s Office. Some family and the family’s attorney, Jeremy McLymont, have seen the video, but a gag order restricts discussing what they saw, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel.
“We want transparency and accountability,” said Marlon Napier, a lifelong friend of Desir’s family.
“I’ve seen the video myself, and it doesn’t affect my ability to get justice for the family in the long run,” McLymont said.
McLymont says regardless of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office unwillingness to release the video, the family intends to file a federal lawsuit this fall. However, without video released, McLymont says public perception of what happened can be skewed.
“They’re able to control the public perception of the case because they only reproduce what happened through black-and-white words that they sanitize,” McLymont said.
With local community groups like Chainless Change advocating for Desir’s case, Broward County Commissioners held a hearing on Desir’s case and the Broward Sheriff’s Office handling of what happened.
“The Commission itself can’t give us access to the video because they don’t have that power, but they can help us when we go to court by signing a resolution saying this is a matter of public importance,” McLymont said.
In the hearing this week with county commissioners, supporters of Desir shared their concerns with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office handling of the case, however, Commissioner Steve Geller told NBC, “When it comes to what they can actually do, the Florida Legislature has taken away much of that authority.”
In a statement sent to Atlanta Black Star, Chainless Change says:
“The Broward Sheriff’s Office has a deeply embedded culture of abuse. Kevin’s Desir’s death was a tragedy that should not be excusable or deemed as an “appropriate use of force”. He was tased, choked, pepper-sprayed and beaten to death by six officers at NBB – all while he was handcuffed. Furthermore, the family has been subjected to Sheriff Gregory Tony’s office completely disregarding Kevin’s murder and telling blatant lines to cover up the wrongdoing of officers. Gregory Tony, the officers involved, and the Broward Sheriff’s Office as an institution need to be held accountable for the harm that they caused to Kevin and so many other people in our community. Chainless Change and our partners have a database of over 200 horrific stories from people in jails who have faced abuse in the past year. This lets us know that the abuse that Kevin faced is not an anomaly. This gang-culture within BSO can only be interrupted when our local and state representatives take action instead of trying to sweep things under the carpet.”
Close family friends say the Desir’s family is still struggling with the loss of their loved one.
“Everyone is just putting their faith in God and allowing God to fill that gap and void where Kevin’s presence is no longer there,” said Marlon Napier, lifelong friend of Desir’s family.
McLymont says Desir’s children are what keep him motivated to keep fighting for justice.
“Every holiday, every birthday, it means something and it’s just that much worse. Every milestone his daughters have to go through without him, it’s just something that will keep you motivated,” McLymont said.