The North Miami Beach, Fla., Police Department is under fire after a woman discovered that not only were police using actual mug shots of African-American men as shooting targets at a firing range, but one of the men in the photos, bearing bullet holes from a police pistol, was the woman’s brother.
On Saturday, Sgt. Valerie Deant went to a shooting range with other troops from the Florida Army National Guard for "annual weapons qualifications training," according to NBC Miami.
North Miami Beach police snipers had used the range before them, and once Deant and her fellow guardsmen arrived, they were shocked to see that mug shots of African-American men were used as target practice. Upon closer inspection, Deant found that one of the men in the photos was her brother, Woody Deant, whose mug shot was taken 15 years ago "after he was arrested in connection to a drag race in 2000 that left two people dead," NBC Miami reports.
"I was like, 'Why is my brother being used for target practice?' " Deant told the news station. "There were, like, gunshots there, and I cried a couple of times."
Woody Deant was 18 at the time the mug shot was taken.
"The picture actually has like bullet holes," Woody Deant told the news station. "One in my forehead and one in my eye. … I was speechless."
According to NBC Miami, the Medley Firearms Training Center leases the shooting range to law-enforcement agencies in the area and is not responsible for supplying targets to visitors.
While North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis admits that the snipers could have used better judgment, he doesn't believe that the use of an all-African-American photo lineup for target practice is racial profiling, and added that his sniper team has minority officers. Dennis also told the news station, "Pictures are vital for facial-recognition drills."
"Our policies were not violated," Dennis said. "There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals who were involved with this."
The news station's investigative team did some digging, and after speaking with "federal and state law-enforcement agencies and five local police departments that have SWAT and sniper teams," it found that no other department uses actual mug shots for target practice.
"The use of those targets doesn't seem correct," Alex Vasquez, a retired FBI agent, told NBC Miami. "The police have different options for targets. I think the police have to be extra careful and sensitive to some issues that might be raised."
Dennis told the news station that his Police Department also uses pictures of whites and Hispanic men for target practice, but his chief concern was that one of the photos used was of someone his officers had arrested.
"That individual would be someone that was on the streets of North Miami Beach," Dennis told the news station.
The police chief added that his department has no intention of changing its practices and will continue using human targets—just not booking photos of suspects its officers have arrested. He will also make sure that officers remove target-practice photos from the range once they are done shooting.
"This can create a very dangerous situation," Andell Brown, an attorney for the Deant family, told NBC Miami. "And it has been ingrained in your subconscious; what does that mean when someone [police] comes across Woody or another person on the street, and their decision-making process on using deadly force or not?"
This concerns Woody Deant, who served four years in prison but who told the news station that his life is nothing like it was. "I'm not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work 9 to 5," he said. "Now I’m being used as a target?"
Read more at NBC Miami.