Before George Floyd and Tymar Crawford, the city had the death of Victor Steen.
Around 1:50 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2009, Victor was spotted by Pensacola Police officer Jerald Ard riding his bicycle near a construction site at the intersection of T and Cervantes streets.
After Steen ignored orders to stop his bicycle, the police officer followed the teen eastward on Cervantes in his police cruiser–cutting across lanes and eventually firing his Taser at him through the driver’s window.
Moments later both parties entered an abandoned bank parking lot between R and S streets, where Steen fell from his bicycle and was run over and killed by the vehicle in pursuit.
First Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard completed the autopsy of Steen on Oct. 5 but was unable to classify the cause of death. Our uneducated guess was the police cruiser
State Attorney Bill Eddins requested an inquest.
In January 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a formal letter to Eddins to withdraw his request, calling it a “political cover” and nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.” The ACLU recommended a special prosecutor appointed by the governor be used instead.
Two days prior to the scheduled Steen inquest, the ACLU made a presentation at the local Movement for Change office to educate the public on the faults in the judicial practice. More than 40 people showed up for the event, including Steen family members, City Councilman John Jerralds and youth who had protested outside of the PPD following Steen’s death.
“Because there is one executive agent, it is difficult to have an independent finding,” ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson told those in attendance. “It is not a fact-finding mission. The State Attorney’s office is not going to learn anything new.”
Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille disagreed with the assessment.
“I say the opposite (of what the ACLU has said),” he told Inweekly. “If the public has questions and relevant comments they are given the opportunity to address the court. A grand jury is a secret procedure…it is kept secret. A coroner’s inquest is the most secure way to bring evidence forward.”
Our newspaper at the time reported that since 1998 there had been 12 inquests in Escambia County involving law enforcement officers–all of whom were cleared of prosecution.
Attorney Aaron Watson represent the Steen family at the inquest on Feb. 25, 2010. The city was represented by then-City Attorney Rusty Wells and his assistant attorney Susan Woolf – today Woolf is the city attorney and Wells is her assistant.
Eli Lawson, the FDLE special agent who oversaw the department’s investigation, testified that FDLE found no evidence of criminal activity by Steen. The two pieces of construction equipment that were in question, both cement pavers, showed no sign of vandalism or theft.
Judge John Simon adjourned the hearing and walked the evidence trail the following day. Inweekly watched him retrace accounts from several witnesses outside of Sluggo’s and walk along the sidewalk on which Steen had been seconds before he fell from his bicycle.
Simon later issued a ruling that no crime was committed: “Mr. Steen desired to avoid apprehension on Oct. 3, 2009. That desire led to Mr. Steen’s ill-advised decision to ignore lawful commands … and enter a dimly lit parking lot unaware that a potential hazard was present i.e., the existence of a raised curb. Once Mr. Steen struck the raised curb, he was ejected directly into the path of Officer Ard’s vehicle. … It was impossible (based on perception reaction time) for Officer Ard to avoid striking Mr. Steen.”