Boynton Beach police say Byron Harris rammed a Mitsubishi Mirage into an officer, led nine squad cars and a helicopter on a 100 mph chase that zigzagged up and down Interstate 95 and fought off six officers before they could arrest him and his passengers.
Harris’ mother says her son didn’t hit anyone and he didn’t resist the police, but they beat him anyway.
Here’s what’s certain: A Boynton Beach officer was seriously injured — hit by Harris’ car and then struck again in quick succession by a pursuing officer’s squad car in the early morning hours of Aug. 20.
Officer Jeffrey Williams, 41, suffered fractures to his lower spine, blood clots in his pelvis and bruising to his lungs, reports showed. He had back surgery and was released from the hospital a week after the incident, and has returned to light duty.
Harris’ booking photo reveals one eye swollen shut, the other open only a slit.
When Boynton Beach police reported the incident in August, they said Harris, then 26, resisted arrest. They blacked out parts of the publicly available police report that described officers punching, kicking and using a Taser on Harris and his two passengers.
Harris’ mother brought the unredacted records to The Palm Beach Post. She got them from his public defender, who had them to prepare Harris’ defense on charges of aggravated battery on a police officer, among others. To aid her son’s defense, Charlene Edwards is working with self-described community activist Clarence “Shahid” Freeman, who himself awaits trial on charges of trying to extort money from the outgoing schools superintendent.
Police said they blacked out parts of their reports because of an ongoing investigation. A spokeswoman would not specify which investigation: the hit and run or the officers’ use of force to restrain the suspects or both.
It all began when police saw Harris roll through a right turn on red.
It was about 2 a.m. on Aug. 20, when police say Harris failed to come to a full stop before turning onto North Seacrest Boulevard from Northeast 10th Avenue in Boynton Beach.
An officer tailed Harris and reported seeing him toss a bag of white powder out the window. Harris’ passengers, Ashley Hill, then 18, and Jeffrey Braswell, then 25, later told police they thought the bag contained either heroin or marijuana and Xanax.
The officer in pursuit, Justin Harris, said Byron Harris drove about 35 mph westbound toward I-95 on Gateway Boulevard. There, officer Williams stood outside his marked squad car, lights flashing, and laid stop sticks.
Byron Harris, as if to avoid the stop sticks, crossed all the traffic lanes and veered toward Williams.
Officer Harris, right behind Byron Harris, saw officer Williams get hit.
“I observed what appeared to be a pedestrian who was clearly struck by the vehicle begin to fall in my direction of travel,” officer Harris wrote. Officer Harris braked and turned but couldn’t avoid hitting Williams as well. Stopping to help, officer Harris wrote, “Once exiting my patrol vehicle I discovered that the subject struck by the suspect vehicle was then struck by my patrol vehicle as well.”
He called it in, saying the Mitsubishi was traveling north on I-95, and the chase was on.
Meanwhile, inside the Mitsubishi, a dispute broke out.
“Man, I told him to stop the car,” Braswell, the front-seat passenger, told police. “I was waving my hands out the window ‘cause I wanted to get out. When (Byron Harris) ran over the cop, he said, ‘Man, this is murder now, I can’t stop. Call my mama.’ ”
Speeding down I-95
At 10th Avenue North, Byron Harris took the exit, with five police cars in pursuit, crossed the street and jumped back on the highway, police said.
Harris raced to Okeechobee Boulevard, zigzagging with his headlights off at speeds exceeding 100 mph, where a sixth Boynton Beach squad car joined the pursuit. Harris exited, made a U-turn on Okeechobee, and hopped onto I-95 again, this time heading south. He exited again at Sixth Avenue South in Lake Worth.
Now with nine police cars and the sheriff’s helicopter in pursuit, Harris bumped struck the right front bumper of officer Michael Brown’s police car as Brown positioned himself to block Harris from getting back on the highway.
Harris speeded down Sixth Avenue to South A Street, then south to Elm Street, where officer Brown struck the Mitsubishi, which lost power.
Tasers, not bullets
Officers said they got out of their cars, drew their guns and shouted for Harris and his two passengers to get out. Instead, they say Byron Harris reached around “frantically” in the car.
That’s when police swarmed the subcompact.
When the officers grabbed Byron Harris, who is 6 feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds, he reportedly kept pulling away and fighting, so officer Cory Herny said he shot Harris in the back with a Taser dart, causing Harris to fall out of the car.
Harris pulled the Taser probe out of his back and started to get up, police say. That’s when officer Matthew Medeiros tried to kick him in the right arm, but missed and hit his face, Medeiros’ unredacted report says.
Officers cuffed one of Harris’ wrists but he continued to fight, so Herny wrote, “I then began hitting Byron with a closed fist in the meaty portion of his back.”
Officer Stephen Maiorino, now in jail on sexual assault charges in an unrelated case, “began delivering strikes with fists and feet to the upper arm/shoulder area of Byron,” he wrote in his report.
While officers fought Harris, Medeiros opened the rear passenger door, where back-seat passenger Hill tried to get out and “intervene with Harris being taken into custody,” he wrote, adding, “I extended my right arm forward to block her path and her face struck my hand.”
Hill kept kicking, so Detective Alfred Martinez shot her in the chest and stomach with a Taser. She fell face first onto the pavement, where police cuffed her.
Officer Medeiros, who broke his hand in the fight, went back to Harris aiming another “leg strike” at his arm, but again missed and hit his face. Officers placed the second cuff on Harris.
On the front passenger side of the car, three officers Tased and beat Braswell, who disobeyed their shouts to get out of the car, they wrote in their reports.
Officer Ronald Ryan tried pulling Braswell out, but he kept reaching between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, Ryan wrote, adding “I had a genuine fear he may have been reaching for a weapon.”
Officer Brown said he punched Braswell several times but he still disobeyed, so he shot him with a Taser in the leg and chest.
Braswell still wouldn’t be handcuffed, forcing Ryan and another officer to strike him several more times.
Lengthy rap sheet
Harris awaits trial on charges of aggravated battery on a police officer, fleeing and leaving the scene of a crash with injuries. Hill and Braswell pleaded guilty and paid $253 on obstruction charges. The court withheld adjudication for Braswell.
Harris’ mother, Charlene Edwards, is working with Freeman to prepare for trial. Freeman, a self-described community activist, was arrested in 2013 and charged with trying to extort $895,000 from Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent. He awaits trial.
Byron Harris has a record going back 10 years.
In August, Harris was on probation after getting two years of community service for using fake money at a Subway sandwich shop in Charlotte County.
In November 2013, he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The trial for that charge is scheduled for April.
Earlier in 2013, he was charged with domestic battery and domestic assault, for which he served 99 days in the Palm Beach County Jail. Among other charges dating to 2005: a year in jail for selling heroin and three years in prison for attempted armed robbery.
At one point during the chase, Harris’ front-seat passenger, Braswell, later told police that Harris said, “I’m on probation, and I can’t go to jail for murder.”
Despite the detailed police reports, including the comments from the passengers, Harris’ mother, maintains her son did not hit the officer.
“It messes with me emotionally,” Edwards said. “But this time he’s innocent, and that’s what hurts him.”