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CIW Op-ed in the Naples Daily News: "We as a community can— and must — recognize the injustice of Nicolas Morales's death and honor his life by implementing the long-overdue reforms necessary to ensure that no son or daughter of Collier County suffers that same incalculable loss [as Nicolas Jr.] ever again."

CIW, allies call on Citizens Review Panel to step up as "the voice — and the conscience — of the community" at upcoming December 1st meeting

On Sunday, the CIW published an Op-ed in the Naples Daily News in our continuing efforts to secure justice for Nicolas Morales, an Immokalee farmworker who was killed by Collier County deputies in September 2020.  On December 1st, a Citizen's Review Panel (CRP) will convene to review the case.  In the opinion piece, we urge the CRP to include the CIW’s detailed, second-by second analysis of the dash cam video of Nicolas’s shooting in their review and to carry out an open and honest examination of the officers’ actions that night.  

Here below is the CIW’s op/ed in full.  If you live in the Southwest Florida area —  and you refuse to stand by while a fellow human being, a father and widower, is cut down needlessly in yet another senseless police killing — please join us tonight, Wednesday, December 1st, at the Community Review Panel’s public meeting in Naples at 5:30 pm at the Professional Development Center (PDC) located at 615 3rd Avenue South, Naples, Florida. 

 

On September 17, 2020, a 12-year-old boy in Immokalee said goodnight to his father and got ready for bed.  The boy had lost his mother to a brutal battle with diabetes not long before that night, but his father, a longtime farmworker, loved his son dearly and did everything in his power to provide for him while navigating his own profound grief.  Their life together was anything but easy, but their home was filled with love.  Nicolas Morales Jr., with his father’s support and guidance, was finding his way in the world, father and son bound inextricably by their shared loss.

What happened next that fateful night in the quiet streets of Immokalee’s Farmworker Village community was the stuff of nightmares, but it was all too real.  The boy’s father, Nicolas Morales, woke Nicolas Jr sometime shortly after midnight, telling his son that he was seeing demons and that they were trying to hurt him.  Deep in the throes of a sudden and terrifying mental health crisis, Nicolas Morales then bolted from the house and into the quiet neighborhood, leaving Nicolas Jr alone, scared, and confused.  After Nicolas Jr did the only thing he could think of — calling a trusted school teacher to report his father’s situation — he listened to the sounds from outside as his father pounded on neighbors’ doors, pleading for refuge from the specters conjured in his mind, from dangers that only he could see.  One of his neighbors called the police, and soon after, Nicolas Jr listened as the police arrived, shouted commands at his father, and — mere seconds later — shot him to death at close range, releasing a police dog after the shots were fired that mauled his father as he lay dying.  

Nicolas Morales stood 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighed 149 pounds.  He was shirtless, shoeless, and holding a small pair of gardening clippers by his side when he was shot and mauled by a team of three Collier County Deputies and a police K-9.  The dash camera video from two patrol cars parked just feet from the shooting tells the story of a brutal police killing that was every bit as preventable as it was horrific. The video provides an unblinking, second-by-second narrative of the violent death of a man — a widower, a single father, a hard-working farmworker — shot by police who could have just as easily helped him find the medical attention he needed as they did kill him.  

One year later, Nicolas Jr penned an open letter to Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.  In it, he described the impact of the events that night on his life, and how he believes the deputies should have handled his father in his time of crisis and need, writing:

“… I am now 13 years old and everyday of the past year has been super hard with this devastating loss that is with me daily.  I sometimes have disturbing nightmares and I cannot sleep.  I have flashbacks about the things that happened that night.  Those images and sounds are pictured in my mind.  In my opinion, there should have been a conversation, no weapons, the officers could have tried to talk to my dad, maybe with a therapist there or, at least with an officer who knows how to manage with that type of situation.  I wish every single day that my dad was alive...”

We could not agree more with Nicolas Jr.  I am one of the co-founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights organization founded nearly 30 years ago in Immokalee.  Our Fair Food Program brings together farmworkers, farmers, and 14 major retail food corporations, from McDonald’s to Walmart, in a unique partnership to end human rights violations in the US produce industry.  We have worked for decades with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and state and federal law enforcement officials in the fight against modern-day slavery and, most recently, with the Nobel Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders in the fight against Covid-19.  We received a Presidential Medal for our human rights efforts at a White House ceremony in 2015; the MacArthur Foundation awarded the CIW its prestigious “Genius Grant” in 2017 and called the Fair Food Program, “a visionary strategy… with the potential to transform workplace environments across the global supply chain”; and Harvard Business Review called our work, one of “the most important social impact success stories of the past century.”  We take human rights violations very seriously. Our track record speaks for itself.

We have analyzed the video from the police dash cams and made our analysis publicly available.  You can find it here: https://ciw-online.org/blog/2021/02/as-he-lay-dying/

Our analysis dissects the events of that night, from the call dispatching the deputies to Farmworker Village, to the 13 seconds between their arrival and their decision to shoot Nicolas and release their K-9.  The video is crystal clear.  The deputies failed to recognize Nicolas’s obvious mental health crisis, failed to communicate effectively with Nicolas, and consistently made decisions and took actions that escalated the situation.  They drew their service weapons upon arrival rather than other non-lethal means available to them, and aggressively closed the space between Nicolas and themselves rather than maintaining a safe distance and containing him until they could bring the situation under control.  Their actions turned what could have been a peaceful resolution into a deadly one.  The multiple failures to assess and de-escalate the scene that night put the deputies and Nicolas Morales on a spiraling collision course that, just 13 seconds later, left Nicolas dead, Nicolas Jr an orphan, and the Immokalee community in mourning.  

Like Nicolas Jr, we believe his father’s death was a preventable and unnecessary abuse of power.  And we believe that any objective observer would agree after watching the graphic dash cam video.  Yet somehow, both the State Attorney and the CCSO’s own internal review process found the killing of Nicolas Morales to be legally “justified.”  Two critical fail-safes designed to ensure that justice is done in the event of an unjust killing at the hands of the police have failed.  Sadly, their failure was hardly a surprise: officers are almost uniformly exonerated in state and law enforcement reviews.

Crucially, one more step remains for the Immokalee community still holding out hope for an impartial, local review: the CCSO’s Citizens’ Review Panel (CRP).  The CRP is a panel of 7 citizens and 5 CCSO staff members that was formed to “promote and improve communications between the CCSO and the community.”  Specifically, according to the CCSO website, the CRP “reviews all closed internal affairs investigations that involve allegations of unreasonable force.”  The Panel’s recommendations are then forwarded to the Sheriff for his consideration.  Their meetings are open to the public. 

On December 1, the CRP will meet to review the facts of Nicolas’s shooting.  We are calling on the CRP to review the dash cam video and our accompanying analysis at their meeting in December and to carry out an open and honest examination of the officers’ actions that night.  We are all part of the social contract under which we, as a community, grant the police immense power over our freedoms, and even our lives, in exchange for their service in keeping the broader peace, if — and only if — they exercise that power under fair and clearly-defined rules.  That social contract was broken on September 17, 2020, in Immokalee’s Farmworker Village.  It’s the CRP’s duty to step into that breach as the voice — and the conscience — of the community. 

Ultimately, the contract at the heart of our community is founded on trust.  And when that trust is violated, we must act.  Nicolas Jr’s father may no longer be by his side, but we as a community can — and must — recognize the injustice of Nicolas Morales’s death and honor his life by implementing the long-overdue reforms necessary to ensure that no son or daughter of Collier County suffers that same incalculable loss ever again.

See this on the Naples Daily News site

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