Black Lives Matter group demands change after fatal Plant City shooting

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, July 15, 2017, 10:19 PM EDT

Black Lives Matter Tampa stopped by the Plant City Police Department on Saturday to demand change in the wake of the police shooting of Jesus Cervantes.

The group was supported by a few other activist groups, including Showing Up for Racial Justice Tampa, The Restorative Justice Coalition, Out and Loud Florida and ANSWER Sun coast.

Several of Cervantes’ family members along with about a dozen demonstrators also showed up.

“We want justice for him and justice for the family,” said Gabriela Molina, Cervantes’ sister-in-law. She said her brother-in-law was 35 years old and a husband and father of four young girls.

Plant City officers said Cervantes led police on a high-speed chase July 6 after calling 911 for help. Police said he lost control and crashed in a ditch in front of a BP gas station, shortly after running over stop sticks.

The department’s spokesman said Cervantes didn’t follow their commands and instead reached for an unknown object.

“He was calling for help, and they didn’t take the time to ask him if he was OK after the crash," Molina said.

Asked Ruth Beltran: “He was in a crisis, and he crashed. Could that be why he wasn’t responding to demands?”

The shooting is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Black Lives Matter Tampa wants changes made to prevent this from happening again.

The group has a list of demands, including a federal investigation of the shooting, the release of dashboard and body cameras, the release of all evidence including surveillance video from the BP gas station and witness testimonies, as well as an independent civilian review board, regular bias training, cultural competency training and new policies designed to stop the usage of deadly force by law enforcement.

“Some of the demands we have here are a clear way to build trust, a clear way for transparency, if they have nothing to hide,” Beltran said.

Black Lives Matter is giving the Plant City commission and chief of police until July 28 to formally respond to its demands.

Plant City Police said that agency has surveillance video from the BP gas station.

But Sgt. Alfred Van Duyne said the department doesn’t have plans to purchase body cameras anytime soon because of logistical concerns.

Van Duyne said the department is seeing how they work with the Tampa Police Department, which is using them in a pilot program, and the judicial system to determine whether they’re cost-effective. He said the initial procurement cost is more than $200,000, and that doesn’t include the money needed to maintain them and store the video.

In relation to dash cams, Van Duyne said the department got rid of those about eight years ago after encountering issues maintaining them.

He said it is standard procedure for police shootings to be investigated by the FDLE. The two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.