State Attorney: Collier County deputy justified in shooting death of Immokalee man

Published: February 12, 2021 3:22 PM EST
Updated: February 13, 2021 6:57 AM EST

A Collier County sheriff’s deputy has been cleared in the shooting death of an Immokalee man that occurred last year.

Nicolas Morales Besanilla, 37, was killed on Sept. 17, 2020 when he had a run-in with Corporal Pierre Jean.

The officer-involved shooting investigation was under review by the 20th Judicial Circuit.

“Based upon the investigative reports provided, and the applicable law, I am convinced that the actions of the officer involved in this incident were a legally justifiable use of deadly force, in the defense of himself or others,” wrote 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Amira Fox.

The shooting occurred in the driveway of a home in the 600 block of Edenfield Way.

According to a memo from the state attorney’s office, Morales Besanilla was moving toward Jean and a second deputy with pruning shears in his hand.

Morales Besanilla received three gunshot wounds in his abdomen area and died.

The investigation into the officer-involved shooting was conducted by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

The meeting between the deputies and Morales Besanilla lasted less than 25 seconds.

The deputies were called to the home because someone was outside banging on the front door with a shovel and kept yelling to be let in. The woman who called 911 said she thought the man lived nearby but was not sure.

When they arrived they found Morales Besanilla shirtless with a shovel and something shiny in his hand, which was later determined to be pruning shears.

As he continued to get closer, he dropped the shovel and ran toward the officers causing Jean to fire four times.

At the same time that Morales Besanilla was shot, a K-9 was released and bit him in the shoulder. Morales Besanilla was taken to Naples Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Jean told investigators he ordered Morales Besanilla to the ground and told him not to advance but was ignored.

Jean said he believed the object in the man’s hand was a knife. A second deputy believed it was a revolver, according to the memo.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said, since the criminal investigation has concluded, it will begin its internal affairs investigation.

The agency released its dashcam videos of the encounter.

Morales Besanilla lived less than a quarter-mile away from where the shooting took place. He left behind a 12-year-old child, according to the investigative report.

The man’s child said on the evening of the shooting he shared a meal with his dad, who had consumed one to two beers. They both went to bed at 9 p.m.

Morales Besanilla woke his child up at around midnight and “told his son that he was seeing spirits and creatures.”

His son said during a child protection interview, his father ran out of their home and began running outside and went to his neighbors’ banging, trying to get in and yelling for help before deputies arrived.

NAACP wants justice for victim and family

The NAACP in Lee County wants the state attorney to take a second look at the case and Morales Besanilla’s attorney agrees.

“This is what all of America told law enforcement that we did not want anymore, and they are still doing it here in the Deep South where racism still prevails, and that’s what this is,” said James Muwakkil, the president of the Lee County NAACP.

Muwakkil said the officer seen in the video should not have fired his weapon at Morales Besanilla.

“That’s not law enforcement at its best,” Muwakkil said. “That’s law enforcement at its worst. It was preventable.”

The family’s attorney, Brent Probinksky, does not believe justice has been served.

“He’s lying on the ground with four gunshots,” Probinsky said. “They let a K9 dog go on top of him and start ripping up his shoulder while he’s still laying on the ground.”

Probinsky said the footage in the video is outrageous.

“There was no justifiable use of deadly force,” Probinsky said.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the worker-based human rights organization, said Morales Besanilla’s killing was entirely avoidable.

In a statement, the group said the “sickening dashboard videos” confirmed their worst fears.

“One of the videos captures Cpl. Pierre’s fatal failure of judgment in a crucial moment just seconds after the officers’ arrival, showing Cpl. Pierre firing multiple shots from close range into Nicolas while his fellow deputy stands only a few feet away, still holding his K-9 by its harness,” the group said. “Only after Nicolas had been fatally wounded and started to fall to the ground did the K-9 officer release his dog, which proceeded to maul Nicolas as he lay dying, calling out in Spanish for his mother.”

“In that crucial moment of decision, we see two officers responding simultaneously to the same situation, one officer leaping to the use of deadly force, the other, confirming that lethal force was not necessary, yet to deploy even the non-lethal force at his disposal,” they added.

There was no need to leave Morales Besanilla’s son orphaned, the group said.

“We strongly disagree with the State Attorney’s Office, which inexplicably concluded that deadly force was justified,” the group said. “That conclusion is shocking and unacceptable, and we will seek justice for Nicolas, for his family, and for Immokalee.”

Neighbors we spoke to in Immokalee agreed.

“He wasn’t looking for no trouble,” Wendell Allen said. “Trouble came to him.”

Attempts to reach the State Attorney’s Office for comment were unsuccessful on Friday.