A Florida sheriff on Monday released surveillance footage of the moments leading up to deputies shooting and killing the accused getaway driver of suspected shoplifters in a Target parking nearly two weeks ago, showing how the now deceased young man rammed his car into department vehicles and barreled toward law enforcement officers in his attempt to escape.
The lawyer representing the family of the deceased 20-year-old Jayden Baez has threatened a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, so Osceola County Sheriff Marcos R. Lopez hosted a press conference Monday to release some information about the circumstances leading up to the April 27 shooting in Kissimmee.
Still, the sheriff declined to go into detail about the shooting itself as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) conducts an independent probe into his deputies’ actions.
"There has been misinformation published. This information was shared by people who have potential financial motivation and obvious goals to talk quickly and loudly before the facts are established," Lopez told reporters. "I believe that our citizens can be patient while we conduct and conclude the investigations, and I am committed to providing the citizens of our community reliable information at the conclusions of those investigations. I thank the citizens of Osceola County for their trust."
The sheriff described how deputies near the Target parking lot for a training exercise witnessed suspicious activity after a black Audi with its license plate covered by paper backed into a handicap spot.
Baez was behind the wheel, while Joseph Lowe, Michael Gomez and an unidentified juvenile were passengers.
Two males got out and concealed their faces with what appeared to be COVID masks and pulled sweatshirts over their foreheads. Deputies notified the Target loss prevention officer, who then witnessed Lowe and Gomez enter the store, take merchandise, and exit again by passing all points of sale without any attempts to pay.
The officer notified deputies prosecution was desired for the theft, Lopez said.
Once the young men returned to the Audi, video shows deputies boxed the car in with their unmarked vehicles, but the vehicles' red and blue emergency lights were on when contact was made.
"Detectives exited their vehicles and stood toward the front of the suspect car while wearing vests with the word sheriff written in four-inch-tall lettering and verbally shouted the words, ‘stop, sheriff’s office, stop’," Lopez said. But Baez accelerated the Audi anyway, the sheriff explained, ramming and damaging a total of four Osceola County agency vehicles. Photos showed the extent of the damage.
The force of the collision bounced detectives around inside two separate vehicles, causing them to slam against equipment inside. One detective on foot was forced to jump out of the way "out of fear Mr. Baez was going to kill him," Lopez said. When Baez was removed from the vehicle, a gold firearm with an extended magazine dropped from his person, the sheriff said, showing another photo of the loaded gun.
There’s probable cause that Baez, now deceased, committed assault against a law enforcement officer, aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer and one count of carrying a concealed firearm without a license, Lopez said. Lowe and Gomez are each charged with petit theft.
All the suspects in the vehicle had criminal histories, including Baez who had prior arrests for burglary with assault and battery, giving a false name while under arrest, escape from a facility or in transport, battery and violating probation, Lopez said. The deputies were not wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting.
The attorney representing Baez’s family, Mark NeJame, has made several public statements about the shooting, including saying how the two teenage boys were suspected of shoplifting pizza and Pokemon Cards with a combined value of less than $40. In addition to Baez being killed, the lawyer said Lowe was shot six times "despite both of his hands being raised, clearly indicating either surrender or a plea for the deputies to stop shooting, and that there was nothing in his hands." One of his fingers was blown off.
NeJame said his own probe continues "in preparation for the multimillion-dollar lawsuit to be filed against the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department, Osceola County, and all those individuals and entities responsible for this grotesque misuse of police authority and use of unnecessary and excessive force."