9 Investigates

Blacks two to three times more likely to be arrested in Central Florida than whites, data shows

ORLANDO, Fla. — Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones started researching arrest data broken down by race after the murder of George Floyd. What she uncovered is a gaping disparity in the number of Black people arrested in Central Florida.

In local counties, she found while whites make up a much greater segment of the population, they're less likely to face arrests, and ultimately, criminal charges.

Seconds after an Orlando police officer called out a vague description over the radio, "We saw these guys dealing, trying to stop them. Tall Black male, light pants, black hoodie," the officer arrived on the scene in the city's Parramore neighborhood.

READ: Orange-Osceola state attorney releases list of names of police officers, deputies with possible credibility issues in court

With no questions asked, body camera video shows how he forces the suspect on the ground. The man is begging to know why he's being arrested.

In the video, you hear the officer demand the man open his mouth, who at the same time yells that he doesn't have anything in his mouth.

"I'm eating chips, what the (expletive) is you talking about," he yells.

The drug and resisting arrest charges against the man were later dropped once the case made it to the Orange-Osceola County State's Attorney office.

In February, Jones found out prosecutors planned to review at least 10 other cases involving the same officer, Jonathan Mills, because of the incident and concerns about his tactics and alleged truthfulness.

He is now on the "Brady List" maintained by the state's attorney office.

READ: ‘I can’t even breathe’: Body camera footage shows Orlando officer with knee on man’s neck following traffic stop

The resisting arrest charge was also dropped against an Orange County man who was tased four seconds after an Orange County deputy hopped out of his squad car and arrested him.

When the deputy arrived on the scene, he approached the man, promising he would be tased.

Both arrests are included in the data 9 Investigates compiled using crime reports from police and sheriff's agencies submitted to the state. That data shows Blacks are arrested in Central Florida two to three times more often than whites.

Jones asked Orange County Sheriff John Mina if our research surprised him.

“The more crime that’s happening in a certain area, the more activity you will see,” he said. “If you look at our stats since 2015, crime has decreased by 17% in the past four or five years, so the focus we are doing is working.”

Policing in Black communities is being debated nationally in part because of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was a victim of police brutality, during an arrest over a counterfeit $20 bill.

READ: State Attorney’s ‘list’ could stop law enforcement officers from testifying during trials

Channel 9′s investigation found Blacks make up 14-15% of the population in Central Florida counties. Dating back to 2015, blacks account for 31-33% of arrests compared to whites, who make up about 75-77% of the population.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump represents Floyd's family as well as Terre Johnson, a homeless man who is now suing Orlando police over his arrest.

"We were formed as a slave-owned nation and the first police were the slave patrol. Policing in America hasn't changed much, it's still there to make sure you keep certain people in their place. You can't have two justice systems in America. One for white America and one for Black America," Crump told Jones.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office has increased its activity in the Pine Hills and Holden Heights neighborhoods with the help of federal grants. In 2016 the department received $2.5 million over three years, and in 2017 another grant for $3.125 million over three years. Between the two Community Oriented Policing Services grants, the sheriff's office funded 45 positions.

Mina said COPS deputies provide additional law enforcement services, and engage with community leaders, business leaders, and other stakeholders in the community. They also work with other community organizations and faith leaders.

Recently, Orange County was awarded a $2.5 million COPS Office grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Officials said the grant will fund 20 new COPS deputies who will work in the Holden Heights and Pine Castle areas of south Orange County to keep those communities safe.

Jones asked Mina if he believes the Black communities are over-policed.

"When the justice department gave us a federal grant that helped Pine Hills drastically reduce crime, part of their mission was to engage in community policing. We have implicit bias training we have a policy in place that says if you're being racially profiled our deputies have to immediately contact a supervisor, plus we're all wearing body worn camera now," Mina said.

9 Investigates also looked at specific crimes initiated at times by law enforcement, versus those likely prompted by a 911 call; for example, drugs and weapons violations. Blacks make up 32 to 55% of those arrests, meaning in some cases they are nearly four times more likely to end up in jail for those crimes.