North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis has suspended the sniper training program recently criticized for its use of mug shots of African American men as targets. It was brought to his attention after a National Guard soldier found a bullet-riddled mug shot of her brother at a shooting range.
According to the NY Daily News, Dennis said the department has launched an investigation into the disturbing discovery. “The North Miami Beach Police Department recognizes how, taken out of context, it may appear to be offensive,” he said in a statement Friday night.
Last month, Sgt. Valerie Deant and some of her fellow soldiers went to the shooting range in Medley to practice for their annual weapon’s qualifications training. Upon arrival, they discovered that mug shots of African American men had been used as targets by North Miami Police snipers. The police officers had used the range right before the guardsmen.
NBC Miami reported that Deant was angered even more when she realized one of the images was that of her brother, Woody Deant. It was his mug shot taken 15 years ago, when he was arrested in connection to a drag race that left two people dead.
“I was like ‘why is my brother being used for target practice?’” Deant asked.
She immediately called her brother, who was 18 years old when the picture was taken. He said he served four years in prison and now is a husband, a father and has a career.
“The picture actually has like bullet holes,” Woody said. “One in my forehead and one in my eye. I was speechless.”
The Deant family contacted Attorney Andell Brown. “This can create a very dangerous situation,” he said. “And it has been ingrained in your subconscious what does that mean when someone comes across Woody or another person on the street and their decision-making process on using deadly force or not.”
Initially, Dennis defended using the photos for being “vital for facial recognition drills” and said police used pictures of people of all races and sexes for practice, not just African-Americans. He had stated that the sniper team included minority officers and said the technique is widely used for facial recognition skills.
When NBC Miami asked other federal and state law enforcement sources about this practice, they all responded that they only use commercially produced targets and photos of real people are not used.
Although Dennis has now suspended the program, no disciplinary action will be taken. He said no policies were violated. He does admit that his officers could have used better judgment.
The City of Medley owns the Medley Firearms Training Center, but leases the facility to law enforcement agencies in the area. The shooting range staff does not provide the targets used by law enforcement and the military.