Police in North Miami Beach are in hot water after a South Florida woman visiting a shooting range discovered the officers were using mugshots of African-American men, including one of her own brother, as shooting targets.
Sgt. Valerie Deant, who plays clarinet with the Florida Army National Guard’s 13th Army Band, was visiting the range with her fellow soldiers for a weapons qualification training, when she noticed the officers’ bullet-ridden photographs turned targets.
One of those mugshots, taken 15 years ago, was the face of her own brother, Woody Deant. The then 18-year-old Deant was arrested in connection with a drag race in 2000 that left two people dead, according to NBC Miami.
“I was like why is my brother being used for target practice?” Deant asked.
Deant’s fellow guardsmen were angry too, but they tried to console Deant, who was devastated.
“There were like gunshots there,” Deant said. “And I cried a couple of times.”
Deant called her brother to inform him of the practice.
“The picture actually has like bullet holes,” Woody Deant said. “One in my forehead and one in my eye. …I was speechless,” she added.
But despite the obvious indicators — all six of the mugshots, now covered in bullet holes, were of black men — North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis denies any racial profiling. Citing the importance of facial recognition drills, Dennis added that the team who used the mugshots includes minority officers.
“Our policies were not violated,” Dennis said. “There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals who were involved with this.”
The Deant family, upset that the real-life targets were used amid a national conversation about relations between marginalized communities and law enforcement, aren’t buying it. Neither are police departments in the vicinity, some of whom told NBC 6 that the practice isn’t one they use at all.
NBC 6 Investigators spoke with sources at federal and state law enforcement agencies and five local police departments that have SWAT and sniper teams in an attempt to find out if this is a common practice. All law enforcement agencies said they only use commercially produced targets, not photos of human beings for target practice.
“The use of those targets doesn’t seem correct,” Alex Vasquez, a retired FBI agent, said. “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, however, plans to let his department continue to use human images, claiming he will expand the number of images in its inventory.
His officers, Dennis said, will not use any booking photos from suspects they have arrested and he’ll direct his officers to remove the targets after they use the shooting range.
Using human images, especially those of African-American men given the racial climate in the U.S., is a dangerous and slippery slope that further criminalizes those with brown skin. That’s a factor Woody Deant realizes could hurt him or any black man police come in contact with.
But Woody Deant, who did four years in prison after his 2000 arrest, expressed outrage.
“Now I’m being used as a target?” said Woody Deant. “I’m not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work 9-to-5.”
The Deants contacted Attorney Andell Brown. He said he finds the use of human images for target practice extremely disturbing.
“This can create a very dangerous situation,” Brown said. “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.”
The Deants agree.
“Automatically in his [police officer] mind he’s going to think target, target, target…,” Woody Deant said.
Change would have to come from the department, which seems unlikely. The Medley Firearms Training Center leases the facilities to law enforcement agencies in the area and does not select the targets used by officers.
SOURCE: NBC Miami | PHOTO CREDIT: Screengrab