Nicolas Morales Jr (14): "I hope the Collier County Sheriff can see what they did, that they can learn from their mistakes.  I want them to take action, and to have something to say to us.  We just want justice, that is all we want."

Jesse Andrade, Nicolas Jr's stepbrother: "Nicolas was a father, he was a brother, he was a son, he was a human being... but [the Sheriff's Officers] didn't see him like that, they just seen him like any other migrant worker, and just thought, I can get away with this.  But they didn't know that Nicolas had a strong family behind him."

MacArthur Justice Center's Alexa Van Brunt:  "We bring this lawsuit above all to seek justice for Nicolas Morales's family... and to shed light on the policies and practices of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, which is perpetuating a culture of violence and a lack of accountability."

This past Thursday afternoon, outside the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Myers, Florida — 37 miles from the quiet streets of Farmworker Village in Immokalee, where nearly two years ago Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy Pierre Jean killed farmworker and single father Nicolas Morales with three bullets shot at point blank range — Nicolas Morales Jr, 14, and several members of his extended family gathered with their legal team and members of the Immokalee community to deliver a message to the Collier County Sheriff's Office (CCSO):  The fight for justice in the wake of the CCSO's brutal and unjustified killing of Nicolas is far from over. 

Following months of diligent work behind the scenes, the legal team representing Nicolas's family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last week against the three deputies involved in Nicolas's death – Corporal Pierre Jean, Corporal Nathan Kirk, and Deputy Brian Tarazona – as well as Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk himself for, among other things, "perpetuat[ing] a culture of violence and impunity within the CCSO, [by] failing to discipline officers who needlessly beat, tase and shoot civilians."

Surrounded by cameras and microphones, Nicolas Jr and his family delivered their message in a powerful, often deeply emotional, press conference.  The events of the day were covered in-depth by English- and Spanish-language press (links below), including the Naples Daily News and Fort Myers News-Press.  Here is an extended excerpt from their joint coverage:

Nicolas Morales Jr. (left, joined by his step-siblings Jesse, center, and Marisol Andrade, right, and supported by Immokalee community and faith leaders, background) spoke through tears during a press conference announcing his family filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Collier County Sheriff's Office for the brutal and unjustified killing of his father, Nicolas Morales, in September of 2020.

Nicolas Morales Jr. had harsh words, spoken through tears, for those responsible for his father's 2020 death.

"I feel like police should protect people, not kill innocent people," he told the Daily News and The News-Press at a news conference announcing a lawsuit against three Collier County Sheriff's deputies and Sheriff Kevin Rambosk in the shooting death of Nicolas Morales in Immokalee.

Morales, 37, was shot dead by one of the deputies and "mauled" by one of their K-9 dogs. An internal investigation cleared the responding officers and the State Attorney's Office ruled the shooting justified.

His son was among the nearly 20 attendees meeting at the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Myers on Thursday to announce the civil lawsuit. [...]

[...] The 78-page complaint alleges Rambosk perpetuated a culture of violence and impunity within the sheriff's office, failing to discipline officers who needlessly beat, Tase and shoot civilians.

"Fruition is the right word," said Alexa Van Brunt, the lead attorney representing the family and director of the Illinois office of the MacArthur Justice Center. "We've worked on this case to put it together for well over a year."

They've gathered evidence and compiled the facts not just about what happened to Morales, but also a pattern of abuse Van Brunt says is present in the sheriff's office.

"It's a gratifying day, but it's also the start of a long process," Van Brunt said. "A long fight in court." [...]

[...] Both attorneys said they were impressed by the community's support and the power the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has had throughout.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a worker-based human rights organization focused on social responsibility, human trafficking and gender-based violence in the workplace.

They've supported the family throughout the process.

Officer promoted despite repeated mistakes

Their complaint also alleges the sheriff promoted Jean, the officer who shot Morales, despite him being denied employment by neighboring Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Jean failed out of the Collier County Law Enforcement Officer Academy and has a long, documented history of poor performance, failing to operate well under stressful conditions and unable to state the sheriff's office's lethal force policy, the release stated.

Nicolas Morales Jr. wipes away tears as he speaks at a press conference on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, announcing a federal lawsuit stemming from the death of his father, Nicolas Morales, in Immokalee in 2020. Morales was killed by a Collier County Sheriff's Deputy.

 

Early Sept. 17, 2020, Morales was suffering from a mental health crisis and wandering around his neighborhood. A neighbor at Farm Workers Village called 911 saying a man holding a shovel, later identified as Morales, was trying to get into her home.

Within 21 seconds of deputies' arrival, Jean shot Morales three times, a department analysis showed. Kirk unleashed his K-9 German shepherd, mauling Morales while he was injured on the ground and calling for his mother, police reports indicated. 

Morales died from his injuries shortly after arriving at a hospital.

Deputy shooting, aftermath leaves impact on family

The complaint claims the younger Morales suffers extreme mental and emotional pain due to the deputies' actions.

"For me, how I felt, was like surprise, shock to find out that my father had passed away through a cruel way," Morales said as he tried to find the words. "It changed a lot because now he's not here on this world and I don't have anybody like my dad to be with." [...]

[...] The suit adds that the day after his father died, deputies removed Morales from school and detained him for hours.

Morales then moved to Texas to live with his guardian, his stepsister, the complaint says.

"It's been hard having to deal with my brother and his emotions, and all the stuff that comes with the death of a dad," his stepsister, Marisol Andrade, told the Daily News and The News-Press as she hugged him. 

Andrade briefly paused as she cried, tucked into her stepbrother's shoulder.

"To deal with him sad about his dad and there's nothing I could do," Andrade added after a brief pause as she wiped tears.

Andrade is hopeful as the case makes its way to court.

"That they don't get away with what they did to his dad," she said. "And that they know his life mattered, not just to us, but to other people in the community," Andrade said.

She also reminds the community about the effects of mental health and how that impacted their family.

"Mental health is real and I know he was going through a crisis, that he didn't deserve this," Andrade said… (read more)

You can read the full article at the Naples Daily News website, and find more coverage – which dominated the news cycle locally, in print and on air – on local news stations here below:

"CCSO officials come to believe they can harm civilians with impunity... And they do so..."

The 78-page complaint itself is a stunning document, offering a devastating, detailed recounting of the many failures of the officers whose fateful actions that night resulted in Nicolas Morales' death and mauling by a police K-9.  The complaint also lays out a disturbing account of the broader history of excessive force used by deputies in the Sheriff's Office, and, perhaps most importantly, the complete failure of CCSO leadership to impose any accountability or consequences in case after case of beating, tasing, and harassing of Collier County residents. 

You can read the complaint in its entirety here, but for a sense of its tone and content, the following excerpt is taken from the first pages of the complaint:

… 2. The night Mr. Morales was killed, Defendant Officers Pierre Jean, Nathan Kirk, and Brian Tarazona responded to a 911 call from Immokalee, Florida indicating that a Mexican male was holding a shovel, knocking on the door of a neighbor’s house, and asking to be let inside. Within 21 seconds of the Officers’ arrival at the scene, Defendant Officer Jean cornered Mr. Morales and shot at him four times, hitting him three times in his body.

3. Defendant Officer Kirk then sicced his K-9 German Shepherd on Mr. Morales. The dog latched onto Mr. Morales’ body as he screamed in pain and threw up from the trauma. All three Officers failed to provide timely medical care to Mr. Morales, who died from his injuries, leaving his son, Nick Jr., an orphan.

4. At no time during this horrific incident did the Defendant Officers attempt to de-escalate the situation or use less-lethal force on Mr. Morales, who was in obvious mental distress, never acted aggressively toward the Officers, and posed no threat. Instead, the Defendant Officers used precipitous and unreasonable deadly force, and failed to intervene to prevent Mr. Morales’ entirely preventable death. Their actions violated the U.S. Constitution and Florida state law, as well as the CCSO’s own policies.

5. Subsequent CCSO investigations of the Morales shooting were a sham, designed to clear the officers from criminal and administrative liability...

... 8. The Defendant Officers’ violent acts and the CCSO’s perfunctory investigations in the Morales case were not anomalies but part of a larger pattern of excessive force and failed accountability in the CCSO. Under Sheriff Rambosk’s leadership and the command of top-level CCSO officials, the CCSO intentionally fails to investigate its officers’ use of excessive force against civilians—including beatings, tasings, dog attacks, and shootings—or hold officers accountable forsuch misconduct. As a result, CCSO officials come to believe they can harm civilians with impunity.

And they do so…  (read more)

Failure of local leaders, institutions leaves Nicolas Jr, family no choice but to seek justice elsewhere: federal court…

It has been a long and frustrating road that brought Nicolas Morales’s family to the steps of the federal courthouse in Fort Myers last Thursday, a journey marked with failure after failure of accountability each step of the way: the CCSO’s internal review, the local State Attorney’s review, the debacle at the Citizen Review Panel, the list is painfully long. Each failure forcing the family further from Southwest Florida and toward a place unencumbered by the relationships and conflicting interests that render those with the power to hold Nicolas’s killers accountable ignorant to the agonizingly obvious facts of Nicolas’s brutal killing.  While their infinite love for Nicolas and pain at his loss have fueled his family’s tireless efforts to seek justice, the family’s patience with the local avenues for redress has finally run out after nearly two years, and they turn now to the federal courts to review the overwhelming evidence of excessive and unjustifiable use of deadly force. 

And the CIW will continue to accompany them every step of the way on this new road until justice is finally done.  From the very next morning after Nicolas was shot and killed to today, the CIW has stood shoulder to shoulder with Nicolas Jr. and the Morales family in their calls for justice – and we will continue by their side over the months and years ahead as this case unfolds.  We leave the final word to CIW's Nely Rodriguez, who spoke at Thursday's press conference:

The family of Nicolas and our community of Immokalee have shown enormous patience over the last two years, since officers with the CCSO killed Nicolas Morales. With the dash cam video, it is clear to see that the killing was unjust and cruel, from the escalation of the situation by the officer to the extremely short time period in which the shots were fired, killing Nicolas.

The family hoped that justice would be done, that there would be a transparent investigation, that there would be consequences, especially from a Sheriff who has spoken so often about mental health and the importance of respect and trust with the community that he is supposed to be protecting.

But all the patience and hope haven’t amounted to anything, sadly, except faulty investigations and complete impunity for those responsible for the death of a member of our community leaving a child orphaned. That is why today, Nicolas’ family is bringing this case against the officers who killed Nicolas and against the Sheriff’s officer who has failed completely in holding its employees responsible.

As the Coalition, we stand with Nicolas’ family just as we have since the day Nicolas was killed. 

We will continue to call for solutions — the same that we have been calling for more than a year: Justice for the Morales family.  An Immokalee community committee to hold the Sheriff’s office responsible when they use force. More support for and appropriate response to mental health in our community.

May justice finally be done.

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