Florida ex-officer indicted for excessive force, four others plead guilty

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - A former Florida sheriff's deputy has been indicted by a federal grand jury for using excessive force during a 2014 arrest where five white law enforcement officers were involved in the beating of a black man, U.S. Justice officials said on Wednesday.

Former Marion County sheriff's deputy Jesse Terrell, 33, was indicted late on Tuesday on a charge of depriving the man, identified by sheriff's officials as Derrick Price, of his civil rights. The other officers previously pleaded guilty to that offense, court records show.

The officers have all either resigned or been terminated from the sheriff's department in central Florida, said a spokeswoman for the agency.

The prosecutions come at a time of heightened scrutiny of the use of force by U.S. law enforcement, particularly against minorities.

Four deputies, including Terrell, struck Price during the August 2014 incident, prosecutors said in court records, and it was captured on videotape. The fifth officer watched and did not try to stop them.

Price was left bloodied in a parking lot where he was apprehended, after fleeing when authorities initially came to execute a drug-related arrest warrant, sheriff's officials said.

The two-minute video, posted on the website of the Ocala Star-Banner, includes footage from security cameras and one officer's body camera. The video shows Price running into the lot, putting his hands into the air and lying facedown on the concrete before any officers reach him.

A few seconds later, one officer kneels beside him and pulls Price's arms behind his back as if to cuff him. Four other officers arrive and surround Price on the ground, including one officer who knees him in the ribs a dozen times and another who repeatedly punches Price in the head.

The beating lasts about 40 seconds before they pull him to his feet with his hands cuffed behind his back.

"The abusive and unprofessional actions they displayed shocked me to my core," Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair said in a statement. After seeing the video, he said, he requested the officers' termination with "absolutely no hesitation."

Terrell's attorney expected that his case would go to trial, saying that his situation differed from the guilty officers.

“Jesse is not guilty. He is not guilty of anything,” said attorney Charles Holloman. He declined to elaborate on why Terrell's behavior differed from that of the other officers.

If convicted, Terrell faces up to 10 years in prison. The officers who pleaded guilty are awaiting sentencing.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Bernard Orr, Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)