Document Shows Cops Flew Spy Plane to Monitor Civil Rights News Conference

The conference was led by lawyers of killed Black teens A.J. Crooms and Sincere Pierce, announcing a lawsuit against a specific officer and their agency.
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Police flew a surveillance plane above a court house where civil rights lawyers were leading a news conference with the family of two Black teens killed by police, an internal law enforcement document obtained by Motherboard confirms.

At the time of the flight, attorneys Ben Crump and Natalie Jackson were announcing a lawsuit against Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office for their role in the shootings of Sincere Pierce and Angelo "A.J." Crooms last November. Santiago-Miranda fired 10 shots into a car A.J. was driving during a traffic stop and while the car slowly moved forward with the wheels turned towards the curb.


"Assisted with patrolling over Brevard courthouse due to demonstration," a section of the flight's "Mission Summary Report" under the heading "Mission Assignment" reads. The document was written by the Florida Highway Patrol's Air Unit, which conducted the flight. Motherboard obtained the document through a public records request.

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Motherboard previously reviewed flight data which showed an aircraft with tail number N267HP registered to the Florida Highway Patrol repeatedly flying in circles above the area where the news conference was taking place. The conference was attended by around 50 people, Florida Today reported at the time. The event was peaceful.


During the event, Crump, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and Breonna Taylor even said that Tasha Strachan, the mother of killed teen A.J., may need to speak louder because of a helicopter flying overhead, according to a recording of the conference uploaded to YouTube by local outlet WESH 2 News.


A screenshot of the Mission Summary Report. Highlight by Motherboard. Image: Motherboard

"For allegedly running a Stop sign, you shoot and kill these babies," Crump said during the conference. Towards the end of the conference, journalists can be heard asking the teens' family members to spell their names for their coverage.

Captain Peter A. Bergstresser, chief of public affairs for the Florida Highway Patrol, previously told Motherboard in an email that "The aircraft was used to monitor and ensure the proper flow of traffic and crowds around the immediate area," when Motherboard sent the agency screenshots showing N267HP flying near the news conference. He added that no pieces of monitoring equipment or cameras were onboard the aircraft.

Local, federal, and military agencies have deployed aerial surveillance against anti-police brutality events after the murder of George Floyd. Motherboard has reported on military reconnaissance planes over Washington D.C and Las Vegas, as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) flying a Predator drone over Minneapolis. Thirty-five members of Congress demanded that federal agencies stop their monitoring of peaceful protesters, and some demanded an independent investigation into how agencies have been spying on Black Lives Matter protests.

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