Fla. chief suspends use of mugshots as sniper target practice

In a five paragraph statement Dennis said the department realizes how, taken out of context, the photo of the six black males in the photo lineup may appear to be offensive

By Rebecca Savransky and Charles Rabin
The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Sgt. Valerie Deant peered into a stack of garbage at a Medley shooting range last month and saw a photo of her brother. His face had bullet holes.

Turns out that North Miami Beach police used a photo lineup of men arrested 15 years ago to help its sniper team practice its marksmanship. All of the photos were of black males, one of whom happened to be Woody Deant.

When the story was first reported by NBC 6 this week, it ricocheted around cyberspace, causing considerable consternation at a time when relations between police and the black community have been strained around the country.

Woody Deant posted on his Facebook page: "ATTENTION!!!!! To all my friends, Facebook friends and family. I have fallen victim to criminal profiling by the North Miami Beach Police Dept."

He also posted: "We are targets!!!!"

The fact that North Miami Beach police honed their aim by shooting a gallery of black men is no reflection on police-community relations in the city, said Maj. Kathy Katerman.

"We have other targets, too," she said. "We don't just shoot at black males."

She said the photo gallery should have been disposed of before North Miami Beach cops left the range and Sgt. Deant's group  she's with the Florida Army National Guard  came in.

Katerman said North Miami Beach sharpshooters also take aim at mugshot lineups of Anglos and Hispanics. She said the department finds it useful to use lineups with faces that share similar characteristics. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that Woody Deant's photo was a target the same day that his sister was using the range for her annual weapons training qualification.

The television station reported that Woody Deant was arrested 15 years ago while a teenager in connection with a drag race in which two people were killed.

His sister called him right after finding the photos.

"The picture actually has like bullet holes," Woody Deant told NBC 6. "One in my forehead and one in my eye. ... I was speechless."

Deant said he spent four years in prison, but that's all behind him now. "I'm a father. I'm a husband. I'm a career man. I work nine-to-five," he told the TV station.

Using photo lineups for target practice doesn't seem to be a common practice among local police departments. Miami-Dade, the county's largest force, doesn't do it; nor does Miami or Miami Beach.

H.T. Smith, a prominent local attorney and civil rights icon who served in the Army during Vietnam, said his unit never considered taking target practice shooting at images of real people  not even the president of North Vietnam.

"Of course it's offensive. You shouldn't be shooting at faces anyway," Smith said. "It's inconsiderate. And it starts at the top. In a multi-ethnic community you should not have a system set up with one set of people."

On Thursday, North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis denied that his department has a racial issue, but said that his officers should have used better judgment. He said that the sniper team included minorities, that no one would be disciplined and that no department policies were violated.

Late Friday, the city responded to the public outcry over the sniper target shooting story. A mass email was sent to media outlets with photos of other targets used by the city's two snipers. Among them: A photo of Osama Bin Laden, and another of a man holding a gun to woman's head.

In a five paragraph statement Dennis said the department realizes how, taken out of context, the photo of the six black males in the photo lineup may appear to be offensive.

"For that reason," Dennis said, "I immediately suspend the sniper training program as we conduct a thorough review of our training process and materials, ordered commercially produced training images, and opened an investigation into the matter."

Copyright 2015 Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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