A Portrait of Race Based Police Brutality
There are cops – some good, some bad. Then there are some cops who are so roguish, so bad that they should not be allowed to touch a law enforcement badge.
Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick DeGiovanni is one of those worst kinds of cops—a history of fabricating police reports and engaging in or covering up police brutality. Take, for example, the brutal beating he inflicted on Paul Stephens on the evening of February 9, 2009.
Deputy Fabricated Reports, Covered Up Police Brutality
A black Jamaican who was an automobile mechanic in 2009, Stephens and his cousin Roan Greenwood, also a black Jamaican, were working on a vehicle at an apartment complex in Broward County. Both men were there as invited guests of a resident at the complex. The two men were working on a vehicle belonging to Stephens’ girlfriend.
DeGiovanni was cruising around the neighborhood which had experienced a recent rash of burglaries. He saw the two black men working on the vehicle. There was nothing suspicious or untoward going on; the deputy simply saw two black men working on a car in a neighborhood that had recently experienced some burglaries.
Cop Investigates Two Black Men Working on a Car
That was enough to cause DeGiovanni to stop his patrol car and investigate. Had it been two white men working on a car in a white neighborhood, the chances are overwhelmingly high that DeGiovanni would not have given them a second glance when he passed. The police, especially the real bad ones, see black men differently. A bad cop could see a black man giving CPR to a heart attack victim and arrest him on the spot for assault with a deadly weapon.
In a March 30, 2017 decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals outlined in graphic detail just how differently DeGiovanni saw Paul Stephens in February 2009. DeGiovanni approached the two men working on the vehicle and demanded:
“What are you two doing over here?”
The two black Jamaicans answered that they were chatting.
“You two are not supposed to be over here,” DeGiovanni stated.
At that point in the confrontation there was zero evidence that the two men were not supposed to be where they were. They were just two black men working on a vehicle and chatting.
Appellate Opinion Details Police Brutality
DeGiovanni returned to his patrol car to call for backup. Shortly thereafter two other sheriff’s patrol cars arrived at the scene.
DeGiovanni returned to Stephens and asked for identification.
“What’s the problem?” Stephens asked as he stood up to produce identification.
“Give me your ID,” DeGiovanni demanded.
At that point, Stephens’ cell phone rang. He answered the phone with a blue tooth on his right ear.
DeGiovanni responded by slapping the blue tooth from Stephens’ ear, shouting:
“Who told you to answer the phone?”
Stephens immediately requested that DeGiovanni get a field supervisor on the scene.
“Shut your damn mouth,” DeGiovanni replied.
And “for no reason” as the appeals court noted, DeGiovanni, using his full body weight, “slugged Stephens hard in his chest, slamming him into the driver’s seat” of the vehicle the two men had been working on.
“Why are you doing this?” Stephens asked as he stood up.
DeGiovanni responded by striking Stephens a second time with a blow to the chest, sending the Jamaican back onto the car seat and knocking the air out of his lungs.
Stephens once again pulled himself up.
“The kids upstairs are looking at you,” Stephens told the deputy. “What kind of example are you setting for the kids?”
Bad Cop Out of Control
DeGiovanni became even more aggressive. The appeals court said the deputy “battered Stephens a third time” by stepping on the black man’s foot “while simultaneously and forcefully grabbing him by the neck and slamming him backward, which threw Stephens against the car-door frame.”
DeGiovanni was obviously out of control. The backup deputies said nothing, much less did anything to prevent the obvious use of excessive force against a non-resisting person.
DeGiovanni’s third assault caused Stephens’ head to “hit in the space between the open driver’s door and the car, and his head and neck slammed into the car-door jam.”
Seriously injured at this point, Stephens reached up to grab the car’s door in order to pull himself up.
DeGiovanni reacted by grabbing “Stephens’s right hand and twisted it so the palm of his hand faced up …” The deputy then “forced the last three fingers on Stephens’ right hand backward toward his forearm, causing all of Stephens’s body weight to be placed on those three fingers of his right hand.”
Abuse Leads to Traumatic Injuries
The Eleventh Circuit then described what happened next:
“After Stephens was standing and while Deputy DeGiovanni still had those three fingers of Stephens’s right hand bent backwards, Deputy DeGiovanni told Stephens to turn around, and he handcuffed him. He did not tell Stephens he was under arrest or why he was arresting him. Because the handcuffs were quite tight, causing Stephens to lose the feeling in his hands, he asked Deputy DeGiovanni to loosen the handcuffs. Deputy DeGiovanni responded: ‘It’s punishment. You people come here and think you can do as you please.’ … Deputy Stephens did not adjust the handcuffs on Stephens for almost three hours.” (Bold used by the court).
Stephens never resisted, did not try to defend himself, was not rude to the officer, or in any way exhibited disrespect toward DeGiovanni. His only offense was that he was a black Jamaican working on a vehicle. That was enough for Deputy DeGiovanni to form the racist belief that Stephens had come to America to do as he pleased and the deputy was not about to tolerate such an offense.
Cop Generated False Police Report
Deputy DeGiovanni drove Stephens to a nearby police station where he denied Stephens a chance to use the bathroom. DeGiovanni prepared a misdemeanor report only to be told by a fellow deputy that the report would not stick. DeGiovanni then fabricated a false police report, stating that Stephens had been aggressive and refused to give the deputy identification.
After about forty-five minutes, Broward County Sheriff’s Office jail staff told DeGiovanni they were not going to book Stephens “because of his injuries.”
DeGiovanni took Stephens to a hospital where he was treated for several hours. DeGiovanni then returned Stephens to the Broward County Jail where he was held until he could post a $100 bond the next morning.
Stephens was later examined by an orthopedic physician who found that his injuries were “traumatic,” would require additional treatment and surgery, and would cause him permanent pain and suffering.
It was astonishing that a federal district court found that, in response to Stephens’ civil rights lawsuit against DeGiovanni, the deputy was protected by qualified immunity and could not be sued for damages for the excessive force he inflicted on Stephens. Fortunately, the Eleventh Circuit reversed this finding and ruled that Stephens could sue and was entitled to a trial on the merits against DeGiovanni.
Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick DeGiovanni is a Bad Cop
As we said in the outset of this article, most cops are good, but when law-abiding, mostly white citizens, sing the praises of “our fine people in law enforcement,” they should realize that there are a disturbing number of Nick DeGiovanni’s in the law enforcement community. They come in all stripes and colors. They are arrogant, corrupt and brutal. DeGiovanni fit that mold perfectly.