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Fla. sergeant sues sheriff for defamation after exoneration in 2019 use-of-force incident

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony fired and criminally charged two deputies after they were cleared of wrongdoing by the department’s Professional Standards Committee, allegedly calling them “bad cops” in a campaign ad

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The suit alleges Sheriff Gregory Tony made a show of suspending LaCerra and Krickovich and openly supporting their prosecution.

Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

By Rafael Olmeda
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony played politics with the careers of two deputies accused of using excessive force against an unarmed Black teenager in 2019, according to a new lawsuit.

Now one of those deputies is suing the sheriff and two high-ranking administrators for publicly humiliating him, denouncing him as a “bad cop” in a political campaign ad, and causing him to suffer emotional and financial distress for more than three years.

Sgt. Gregory LaCerra, who was criminally charged with two counts of battery, falsifying records and conspiracy to falsify records, filed his lawsuit in state court late last week. He was cleared of wrongdoing when Broward Circuit Judge Jill Levy ruled that he was justified in using force against 15-year-old Delucca Rolle during an after-school confrontation in a Tamarac parking lot.

Rolle was part of a crowd of teenagers law enforcement officials described as a “mob” on April 18, 2019. While LaCerra and fellow deputy Christopher Krickovich tried to detain one uncooperative subject, Rolle got in the middle trying to grab a fallen cellphone, according to bystander cellphone video of the incident.

LaCerra’s effort to get Rolle to move was met with resistance that experts described as “blading,” effectively accusing Rolle of taking a fighting stance against LaCerra. The deputy sprayed Rolle with pepper spray before Krickovich took him to the ground and appeared to hit Rolle’s head against the asphalt.

In the days after the arrest, after the video became public, LaCerra and Krickovich were villified in public even as some top brass praised them privately, according to the lawsuit. Tony was assured by Sgt. Melvin Murphy, the agency’s use-of-force expert, that LaCerra and Krickovich’s actions were “completely consistent with the Sheriff’s Policy Manual and the training BSO provides its deputies,” according to the lawsuit.

Five months after the incident, a review by the Professional Standards Committee, which consists of law enforcement and civilian representatives, recommended full exoneration for both deputies, according to the lawsuit.

“That should have been the end of it,” said Tonja Haddad Coleman, one of LaCerra’s civil lawyers.

Instead, Tony made a show of suspending LaCerra and Krickovich and openly supporting their prosecution. Both were criminally charged and both were cleared: LaCerra in 2020 when Levy blocked his prosecution under the state’s Stand Your Ground law, and Krickovich in 2022 when a jury found him not guilty.

Tony, who was appointed sheriff in 2019 and ran for his first elected term as a Democrat in 2020, featured LaCerra and Krickovich in campaign ads touting his determination to hold law enforcement officers accountable for using excessive force. “I fired the bad cops,” he said in the ad.

Lawyers representing LaCerra and Krickovich in their criminal cases accused Tony at the time of spoiling their chances of getting an impartial jury and a fair trial.

Also named in the lawsuit as defendants are John Hale, a supervising captain, and Vincent Coldwell, an Internal Affairs investigator.

Both LaCerra, who had been suspended, and Krickovich, who had been fired, got their jobs back with back pay. Krickovich was originally going to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit but withdrew because his reinstatement to his job came with a settlement, said Haddad Coleman.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office usually does not respond to pending lawsuits but issued a brief statement Tuesday: “The claims in this lawsuit lack merit, and the Broward Sheriff’s Office will address the allegations in a court of law.”

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