Community leaders question lack of information in deputy-involved shooting; plan Wednesday rally in Cocoa

J.D. GallopTyler VazquezFlorida TodayView Comments1:242:09https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.425.2_en.html#goog_179314824

National civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump announced on social media late Monday he’s representing the families in the shooting deaths of two teens involving a Brevard County sheriff’s deputy, as Cocoa community leaders ask why, after three days, law enforcement officials have not given them much information as to what happened.

“I’m sure the (investigators) will say that they’re in the midst of an investigation. But we’d like someone from the Sheriff’s Office, if not the sheriff himself, to at least contact the family and let them know where the bodies are, to let them know it’s being investigated,” said Nino Lyons, longtime civil rights advocate. 

Update:Sheriff Wayne Ivey releases dash cam video as family members, community prepare for rally

Lyons noted that based on witness statements, and with videos circulating on social media about what happened, “there may be some real cause for concern.”

“We need to have justice for these boys, fair justice, don’t drag them through the mud. Do right by them,” Lyons said.

Monday afternoon, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release discussing the shooting, but family members said authorities had not reached out to the parents of the teens.

In Cocoa, near the scene of the deputy-involved shooting that left two teens dead. At left, Randy Foster, incoming Palm Bay City Council member, talks with Quasheda Pierce, mother of Sincere Pierce, one of the teens killed. Others pictured include family friend LaJoyce Jones, Cynthia Byrd-Green, Sincere's aunt, and Tasha Strachan, mother of A.J. Crooms, the other teen killed. The mothers of  Sincere Pierce,and A.J. Crooms, are seeking answers.

Along Stetson and Ivy drives Friday about 10:30 a.m., in a densely packed neighborhood, witnesses said a sheriff’s deputy fired on a car carrying three people. Neither the deputy’s name nor his personnel file has been released. He was placed on administrative leave, the Sheriff’s Office reported Monday. 

More:Little information on deadly deputy-involved shooting involving two teens

Sheriff’s officials said in the news release that deputies were investigating an earlier incident Friday involving a vehicle that fled from an attempted traffic stop at U.S.1 and State Road 528. A vehicle — investigators did not say whether it was the same vehicle — was observed in the area of Stetson and Ivy drives in Cocoa, where deputies attempted to make contact with the driver and passengers, the Sheriff’s Office reported. 

Several gunshots punctured the car’s windows and struck a 16-year-old identified by family and friends as A.J. Crooms and 18-year-old Sincere Pierce.

The car rolled into the wall of a nearby home, witnesses said, its wheels spinning. 

Left to right is Quasheda Pierce, mother of Sincere Pierce, Cynthia Byrd-Green, Sincere's aunt, and Tasha Strachan, mother of A.J. Crooms. Sincere Pierce and A. J. Crooms were killed Friday in a deputy-involved shooting. They are seeking answers about what happened.

Before Monday afternoon, neither the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or the Cocoa Police Department made any public statements detailing the incident. Friday, Cocoa police referred all questions to the Sheriff’s Office or the FDLE.

It was the fifth deadly officer-involved shooting incident to take place in Brevard County this year. 

Monday it still was not known why sheriff’s deputies were in the neighborhood, which is within Cocoa city limits but close to unincorporated areas of Brevard County, patrolled by sheriff’s deputies.https://7c6ea51a3720a3b7026eb621bf701861.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Rally planned

Family members, neighbors and friends are planning a rally at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Metropolitan Baptist Church, 474 King St., Cocoa. 

“We don’t even know where the bodies are,” said Tasha Strachan, the mother of A.J. Crooms, who was told about the shooting by a friend. “No one has called us, nothing…nothing.” 

The teens were both known as aspiring rappers who loved hanging out with one another. Quasheda Pierce said she named her son after a character in a book.https://7c6ea51a3720a3b7026eb621bf701861.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“He was a comedian, always telling jokes,” she said. “He said he was going to be the new Lil Boosie,” she said referring to the popular Hip Hop artist. 

More:U.S. Army vet died in custody after his arrest. Brevard Jail video shows what happened

Family members said the teens were not perfect, having some run-ins with the law, but proclaimed their innocence in Friday’s shooting. It was not immediately known if the Sheriff’s Office was familiar with the teens, including Pierce, whose family members said had recently bonded out of jail on a charge of theft of a motor vehicle. The case, filed by Palm Bay Police, had not gone to trial. Family members said they feared authorities would criminalize the teens to justify the shooting. 

Benjamin Crump, George Floyd's family attorney, said this is "a tipping point" as the family visited the memorial.

The shooting drew the attention of high-profile attorney Crump over the weekend, who has handled wrongful death lawsuits involving law enforcement in other jurisdictions. He has highlighted the Cocoa shooting on his Instagram and Twitter pages. 

“These parents are heartbroken, as any parents would be. They deserve full transparency and speedy answers about who is responsible for the deaths and the circumstances surrounding their shootings,” he said in a news release Tuesday. “For two young Black teens just beginning their lives to be ended is a tragedy and a terrible loss to their families and to the community. We are demanding the details and all available bodycam footage immediately so that we have a clear sightline into what happened.”

Sincere Pierce, 18, of Cocoa

LaVander Hearn, an incoming Cocoa city councilman set to be sworn in Tuesday, called the situation unusual. 

“It’s right in my neighborhood. I know the parents of the children involved; people have been inboxing me about it,” he said.

“I think it’s nonsense that they took the children’s lives and the parents haven’t been updated. I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Hearns said, adding that he stood with the community. Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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Robert Johnson, former president of the South Brevard NAACP and a community activist, has called on law enforcement officials to be more responsive to the families and the community.

He met with the family to listen and gather information. He questioned the lack of contact from law enforcement. 

“There has been no transparency. Just a real lack of communication. If this had happened in a different neighborhood this wouldn’t have happened like this,” Johnson said.

“Why is it that we have to have rallies and protests? Why are we having to ask why no one has contacted the parents to at least tell them about their children? And if this was a mistake, it is not an admission of guilt to say you’re sorry,” Johnson said. 

A.J. Crooms, 16, of Cocoa

‘We need some justice’

A small bouquet of pink and orange chrysanthemums lay at the knobby roots of an oak tree on the shady, tree-lined Ivy Drive where the two teens died. Two small stuffed bears were placed there as a tribute to A.J. Crooms and Sincere Pierce.

Residents said the neighborhood, which is just off Dixon Boulevard a few blocks west of Clearlake Road, is typically calm. 

Leon Newsome who lives a few homes down from where the shooting happened said many are still wondering what transpired leading up to the incident.

“Everybody waves at each other and says good morning. It’s a close little neighborhood and everybody gets along for the most part,” Newsome said. “It’s quiet back here.” 

He said neighbors knew the two who were killed as generally good kids. Officials expect up to 250,000 day-trippers to drive near Cape for SpaceX astronaut launchNASA and SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts discuss what’s next at Kennedy Space CenterBrevard County commissioners narrowly approve 40 arts, cultural grants

Lyons, one of several community leaders who helped organize the Black Lives Matter rally in June in reaction to the George Floyd homicide in Minneapolis, called on law enforcement to avoid painting the youth in a negative light if they did not do anything wrong or illegal. 

“My reaction as a community member … regardless of whatever their history is … law enforcement should have already made some kind of statement so that the parents and the community would have some answers,” Lyons said. 

“I would think that with an agency as large as the Sheriff’s Office, they could have had someone contact the parents by now. We need some justice.” 

J.D. Gallop is a Criminal Justice/Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or jdgallop@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @JDGallop.