FORT PIERCE — The anonymity of two Fort Pierce police officers involved in last weekend’s fatal shooting of a city resident isn’t sitting well with some community leaders and neighbors.
Nor is a City Commission decision Wednesday night to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate the local investigation, rather than have the agency take it over.
Jeremiah Minatee, 25, of Fort Pierce, was exiting a store on Avenue D on Thursday and weighed in.
He wants more details, including the officers’ names, before the investigation goes to a grand jury. Minatee said that might get more people to be more forthcoming about information.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl on Wednesday said the names would not be released until the investigation is complete and a grand jury meets. State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office and the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office are conducting separate investigations and cooperating with each other.
Bakkedahl said releasing the names could influence witness testimony, and he also mentioned threats on the officers’ lives.
The shooting, in which two officers fired their weapons, happened after police tried to stop Demarcus Semer’s vehicle on North 19th Street about 11:55 p.m. April 23, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office was asked to investigate the shooting by Fort Pierce police.
Sheriff Ken Mascara has said that at some point, Semer, 21, attempted to flee in his car and in doing so, ran over one of the officers, injuring his leg, as a second officer was getting in Semer’s car. The second officer couldn’t exit the moving car. Semer was shot outside of his vehicle and died.
“When an individual perpetrator shoots or kills a police officer, the name of the perpetrator is released within 24 hours,” Fort Pierce City Commissioner Reggie Sessions said. “However, when in this situation a police officer kills or shoots an individual, then authorities are very reluctant to release the name …”
Sessions, who is an attorney, said prosecutors complain about a lack of people volunteering information.
“Guess what, Mr. Prosecutor, if you let us know who we’re prosecuting, then perhaps we can give you that information,” he said.
On Facebook, people have been sharing a photograph of a Fort Pierce police officer who may or may not have been involved in the shooting. The caption on the photo refers to the officer as “the murderer.” At least two shares include death threats, saying to shoot and kill the officer.
Sylvester Davis, 32, of Fort Pierce decried information not being released about the shooting.
“This (Semer) was a good kid,” said Davis, whose cousin played high school football at Fort Pierce Central High School with Semer.
In addressing an inquiry about the names, Bakkedahl said, “Explain to me how releasing the names couldn’t jeopardize the integrity of the investigation?
“Let’s say I give up the name of Officer X, and I’ve got a citizen who says, ‘Oh I hate that Officer X, now that I know it’s Officer X involved I’m going to go tell them I saw Officer X execute the … decedent,” he said. “That impairs my investigation.”
Dale Landry, who chairs the criminal and juvenile justice committee for the Florida state conference of the NAACP, said it was “very problematic” to withhold the names until the grand jury meets.
“That sets the stage so that the community is not aware and not given the opportunity to come forward to speak,” said Landry, who is based in Tallahassee.
“There are some lessons we should have learned in the wake of Ferguson, in the wake of Baltimore. … The community has no trust in the criminal justice system in that judicial circuit.”
Charlie Frank Matthews, a former president of the local branch of the NAACP, said prosecutors should identify the officers.
“They do it in every other major city, why not this one?” he said.
But the president of the Concerned Citizens of St. Lucie County isn’t so sure.
“I really don’t know,” said the Rev. John Lee Sr.
About 100 community members attended a meeting Thursday night at the Golden Bear Pancake House on U.S. 1 to discuss sending letters to the Justice Department, asking it to take over the case.
Three different versions of the letter, the first for longtime residents, the second for young people and the third for other citizens of Fort Pierce, were passed out at the meeting for citizens to individually sign.
Shernetrice Bryant, 25, of Fort Pierce, said Semer was her banker and that community members don’t plan to go through the State’s Attorney’s office to contact the Justice Department.
“We’re going straight to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Bryant said. “We want the Sheriff’s Office off the case.”
Community members on Thursday even discussed calling for the resignations or terminations of Fort Pierce Chief of Police Diane Hobley-Burney and City Manager Nicholas Mimms.
Oslyne Murriel, 29, of Fort Pierce, said she didn’t know Semer personally, but hearing about him being a well-rounded man that died from a police shooting was enough for her to get involved.
The Rev. Kenneth Mills Sr., president of the Lincoln Park Council of Ministers, said his group is meeting Friday to ensure the council stays involved with the needs of citizens and to help keep calm and peace.
Staff writer Nick Samuel contributed to this story.