A month has passed since the death of Derek Cruice in a bizarre police shooting in Deltona, Florida, and friends and family of the 26-year-old who was killed at home on the morning of March 4 wearing only a pair of basketball shorts are still waiting for an explanation of why he Cruice was killed.
Derek Cruice was described by one friend as “one of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever met,” but he and some friends were suspected of selling marijuana so a drug squad arrived at his door at about 6:30 a.m. to serve a search warrant.
But as soon as the deputies burst in and saw Cruice — who was clearly unarmed given that he was nearly naked save for his shorts — sheriff’s deputy Todd Raible shot the young man in the face, killing him.
Deputy involved in shooting while serving warrant in Deltona. Suspect shot once in face after advancing on deputy. No injury to deputies.
— Volusia Co. Sheriff (@VolusiaSheriff) March 4, 2015
Police claimed that Cruice “advanced on” the officers, but witnesses who were also in the house flatly denied that Cruice said or did anything that could be perceived as threatening — and the gunshot that killed their friend was fired just seconds after police entered the house.
“There’s a couple of seconds between opening the door, walking out, getting to my knee and halfway out there’s gunfire,” Matthew Grady, who was also in the house, told a local TV station. “I look back as the guy’s grabbing me, and my friend is dead or dying.”
Another housemate of Derek Cruice told Orlando TV station WESH that the police assertion that Cruice somehow resisted the officers was “a complete lie.”
“I was there, I watched the whole thing,” said the friend, who was not named by the station. “There was no advancement. There was no reaching for anything. The guy was wearing basketball shorts like I am. It’s kind of hard to conceal anything or hide anything when this is all you have on.”
Police eventually found about 7-and-a-half ounces of marijuana along with paraphernalia and $3,000 cash in the house — but no weapons. Others in the house said there were no weapons in there to be found.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office was the site of protests involving about 25 people in the days following the March 4 shooting of Derek Cruice. Although the sheriff’s department promised an investigation, no new information has been released.
Washington Post criminal justice writer Radley Balko said while it’s possible Cruice may have become confused when the police stormed into his house, the fault lies with the police tactics of staging violent raids, not with the victim of the shooting.
“This insistence on serving drug warrants by barreling into homes creates needless violence, confusion and confrontation. They’re designed to do this,” Balko wrote.
“I doubt that Cruice knowingly decided to take on a raiding police team armed only with his basketball shorts. It seems far more likely that he thought they were criminal intruders and was either trying to confront them, or was trying to escape. But there is no room for errors in judgment for the people on the receiving end of these raids — even though sowing confusion and disorientation are the stated aim,” Balko wrote.
A similar incident occurred in Georgia last December when a homeowner was shot dead by police in a drug raid. But no drugs were found in that case.
The amount of marijuana found in the home carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Just four months before the police killing of Derek Cruice, a majority of Florida voters, 57 percent, voted to legalize marijuana for medical use. But the measure required 60 percent to pass and marijuana remains outlawed in Florida.
[Image: Justice For Derek Cruice Facebook]