Special to the AmNews
Last month, the Florida Army National Guard’s Sgt. Valerie Deant was shocked after arriving at the Medley Firing Training Center shooting range for her unit’s “annual weapons qualifications training,” and coming across a very disturbing find. She not only discovered that the bullet-riddled targets left behind by the North Miami Beach Police Department’s sniper squad, which preceded the National Guard unit, were mug shots of African-American men but also discovered that one target had a face very familiar to her.
“Why is my brother being used for target practice?” Deant repeated her initial reaction to a local news station. “There were, like, gunshots there, and I cried a couple of times.”
Upon hearing the news, her brother, Woody Deant, was understandably appalled.
“The picture actually has like bullet holes,” he said. “One in my forehead, and one in my eye. … I was speechless.”
He was only 18 years old when his mug shot was taken “after being arrested in connection to a drag race in 2000 that left two people dead,” NBC 6 South Florida reports.
North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis admitted that other images could have been selected, and he also said he doesn’t believe that the use of an all-African-American photo lineup is racial profiling, noting that his sniper squad consists of various ethnicities.
Dennis stated, “Pictures are vital for facial-recognition drills.” Adding that they also use photos of Caucasian and Hispanic men as targets, but his chief concern was that one of the photos was of someone his officers had arrested.
“That individual would be someone that was on the streets of North Miami Beach,” Dennis said.
NBC 6 South Florida did some digging and, after speaking with “federal and state law-enforcement agencies and five local police departments that have SWAT and sniper teams,” found that no other department uses actual mug shots for target practice.
“All law enforcement agencies said they only use commercially produced products, not photos of human beings for target practice,” said Alex Vasquez, a retired FBI agent. “The use of those targets doesn’t seem correct. The police have different options for targets. I think the police have to be extra careful and sensitive to some issues that might be raised.”
Dennis said his department has no intention of changing its practices and will continue using human images as targets—just not mug shots of suspects its officers have arrested. He will also make sure that target-practice photos are discarded after training concludes.
“This can create a very dangerous situation,” Andell Brown, an attorney for the Deant family, warned. “And it has been ingrained in your subconscious; what does that mean when someone [police] comes across Woody or another person on the street, and their decision-making process on using deadly force or not?”
This practice concerns Woody Deant, who served four years in prison. “I’m not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as,” he said. “I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work 9 to 5. Now I’m being used as a target?”
“Our policies were not violated,” Dennis said. “There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals who were involved with this.”
Watch video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZtHRjib-qA