Twenty-one minutes after D.J. Broadus was shot in the back of the head at the remote Florida home of a well-connected Florida law enforcement family, investigators knew who shot him. The person allegedly responsible for Broadus’ death admitted it ... on tape. He was even taken into police custody. Then, for some strange reason, the police officers let him go and redacted the names of the witnesses on the police report.
And then, for nearly a year and a half, no one did anything.
Since that time, Broadus’ family, friends and activists around the country have demanded answers from state and local law enforcement officials to no avail. But on Wednesday, WJXT reports that police finally arrested Gardner Kent Fraser on charges of tampering with evidence in the death of Dominic Jerome “D.J.” Broadus II. He was booked and released on $100,000 bond.
While the identity of D.J. Broadus’ killer has never been a mystery, the story behind the death is still entangled in a web of secrecy, a history of hate and the thin blue line of police silence.
On Feb. 3, 2018, Baker County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies arrived at a residence hidden off Southern States Nursery Road outside Macclenny, Fla., to respond to a call about a shooting. Upon their arrival, officers found the body of 31-year-old D.J. Broadus on the ground behind the home. According to reports by the law enforcement agencies and the medical examiner viewed by The Root, Broadus had been shot three times at close range in his head.
The person who made the 911 call was Gardner Fraser, whom authorities found at the scene of the home that is on the property of the large, multi-acre family business, Southern States Nursery. According to the heavily redacted police report, the 29-year-old Fraser was escorted to the sheriff’s office “at the request of on-scene detectives for further investigation.” Fraser was not arrested and was eventually released. There was also one more person at the scene whose name was mysteriously scrubbed from the police report.
Fraser is the son of former Jacksonville, Fla., Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan T. Fraser. Ryan Fraser was fired from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department in 2009 for shooting Jerrick Hall, an unarmed black man. At the time, Jacksonville’s sheriff said that Ryan Fraser was terminated because Hall did not pose a threat to Fraser when the deputy shot the 20-year-old in 2008. When Ryan Fraser lost his job in Jacksonville, he was somehow able to get another job in law enforcement. He worked for the local jail and was later employed as a full-time deputy until he retired from in 2017 ...
From the Baker County Sheriff’s Department.
After activists and community organizations in Florida, including the Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter and Color of Change, demanded transparency in the investigation of Broadus’ death, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott took the case from the local state attorney who typically handles criminal cases in Baker County and assigned it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a state agency in July 2018.
And then the mystery grew.
On the 911 call, Gardner Fraser stated that he had shot a man who attacked him in his home. When asked if he knew the victim, Fraser said, “Ahh, I believe I do.”
But investigators now say that Fraser dialed 911 at least 21 minutes after he shot Broadus. They also note that Broadus’ body appeared to have been moved or rolled over when deputies arrived. Even stranger, Broadus was supposedly holding a cell phone when he was shot, according to WJXT, but it was nowhere to be found when the authorities arrived on the scene.
The Fraser family lives on the sprawling estate of their family-owned nursery, Southern States Nurseries, which is where Broadus body was found. When The Root looked at Baker County records, the Frasers have owned the property and the nursery for generations.
Even though Broadus was killed in a rural location, on a country road that essentially leads to a farm with no close neighbors, Broadus’ truck, a 1999 Yukon, was also missing from the scene. When his family recovered the vehicle, Sputnik News’ Bob Schlehuber, who has continuously updated The Root on this story, reports that the items in the car were untouched and no fingerprint powder was observed on the steering wheel, the door handle or the passenger’s seat. And despite Gardner’s unsure answer to the 911 operator when asked if he knew Broadus, the FDLE found 115 phone calls and 35 text messages between the two men, some of which were of a sexual nature where images were exchanged, WJXT reports.
At town meetings organized by activists, people who knew Gardner Fraser in elementary school said they have “always known he kinda didn’t like black people,” and described him as “angry and racist.” Many black residents of Macclenny and Baker County spoke about the area’s history of racism in the ranks of law enforcement.
“Baker County is one of those counties where you know it is a ‘good ole boy’ system back up in there,” Jacksonville’s Rev. R.L. Gundy said at one of the town hall meetings. “In Baker County, it’s gonna be deeper because you got an entrenched law enforcement component down there in Baker County that is going to cover [for] one another.”
The town is also known for its courthouse, which has a controversial mural depicting the history of Baker County, including the terrorist history of the Ku Klux Klan. According to historians, Florida had the second-largest Klan organization in the country in the 1950s—just a scant few years ago. In those days, the reputed Grand Wizard of the Klan was a man from Macclenny, in Baker County who denied being a Klan leader but assured everyone that he could speak for the man who was the Grand Wizard. He proudly stated that the Klan stood for white supremacy, segregation, and “upholding the law,” explaining: “There’s plenty of ways to do things within the law and sometimes we have to straighten up the officials.”
Of course, this has nothing to do with the death of D.J. Broadus, nor should it implicate Gardner Fraser or anyone in the Fraser family, except for one interesting detail:
That supposed Grand Wizard was named J.E. Fraser.
J.E. Fraser lived just outside in Baker County. But he wasn’t just a Klan spokesperson. In fact, Fraser was a landowner and moderately successful businessman. Fraser incorporated his business in 1951 and passed it down to his family.
He owned Southern States Nurseries in Macclenny, Fla.