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Deputy involved in deadly shooting of teens has history of violence; Prosecutors did not file charges

The Brevard County sheriff's deputy who fired the shots that killed two Cocoa teens last week exhibited a pattern of violence and rash behavior in connection with a domestic dispute in the months leading up to the shooting, according to Titusville police records.

Records also show Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda was placed on administrative leave by the Brevard County Sheriff's Office in April following allegations he threatened a person with whom his wife — a Titusville police officer — was reportedly having an affair, reportedly telling her that the individual needed to "wear a bulletproof vest."

The allegations are detailed in a Titusville police case report stemming from an incident that same month. Police said Santiago-Miranda battered his estranged wife, Francis Santiago, during a dispute when he "held (her) against her will causing bodily injury."

At the time, the report said, Santiago-Miranda had been told by the sheriff's office to "stay away from" his wife.

According to the report: "Jafet’s employer, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, told Jafet it was in his best interest to stay away from (his wife) Francis and her residence when placing him on administrative leave status regarding allegations of violence in which he was the subject."

The allegations and the incident did not result in his arrest or formal charges, and the sheriff's office allowed Santiago-Miranda to return to active patrol duty just months before last week's shooting that led to the deaths of Sincere Pierce, 18, and Angelo Crooms, 16.

Neither the sheriff's office nor the Titusville Police Department responded to inquiries about the case. Efforts to reach Santiago have so far been unsuccessful. The records detailing the investigation and the April incident were released to FLORIDA TODAY by the State Attorney's Office after a record's request.

The April confrontation between Santiago-Miranda and his wife — stemming from marital problems and an ongoing custody dispute over the couple's daughter — occurred in front of the child and was caught on cellphone video and audio recording, the records show.

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According to the report, at one point during the struggle, in which Santiago-Miranda told investigators he was restraining his wife while waiting for police after she forcibly entered his apartment, his wife was could be heard on audio "making a noise very similar to that of being grabbed (gasping) and then telling Jafet she can’t breathe."

"Jafet told (his wife) she hurt him, it is now time for her to hurt, and she is going to jail because this was taken too far," police wrote in the report, calling Santiago-Miranda's actions "excessive."

"Jafet ignored his daughter's ... pleas to let her mother ... go as he continued to pull (his wife's) hair and hold her in various positions against her will," police wrote. Titusville police — wearing body cams — arrived while the struggle was still occurring, in response to multiple 911 calls, according to the reports.

The incident left the woman with injuries to her neck, upper torso and leg, the report said.

The State Attorney's Office in June declined to file charges against Santiago-Miranda for domestic battery and child neglect in connection with the incident, citing insufficient evidence.

"After reviewing the cameras and sworn statements, the state cannot conclusively determine if the (wife) entered the residence prior to the use of physical force," prosecutors reported.

"The suspect claims that the complainant unlawfully entered his residence and he was restraining her until law enforcement arrival. There are conflicting statements between the witnesses as to whether the entry occurred prior to the use of physical force."

Titusville police investigating the couple’s rocky relationship feared for the safety of the wife, then a detective with the department. Santiago-Miranda’s supervisors at the sheriff’s office told him that it was “in his best interest” to stay away from his wife, following an incident reported to the agency the day before the confrontation in which he allegedly threatened a person with whom he accused his wife of having an affair.

"The threats were directed at the individual (she) was having an affair with and the need of the other individual to wear a bullet proof vest," the report said.

The allegations led the sheriff's office to temporarily remove Santiago-Miranda from his duties, placing him on administrative leave, according to the report.

It was not immediately clear when Santiago-Miranda was cleared to return to patrol duty following the incidents, or whether he was reprimanded or received any other form of discipline.

The records also detail reports of other incidents between the deputy and his wife, including a previous violent confrontation in which a neighbor said Santiago-Miranda was attacked by his wife, whom the neighbor described as "extremely aggressive ... she was on top of him." 

Santiago-Miranda's background is coming under increasing scrutiny as an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the Nov. 13 shooting of Crooms and Pierce continues.

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Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said Santiago-Miranda and Deputy Carson Hendren were attempting to stop a car the deputies thought had been stolen, the agency reported. Neither the sheriff's office nor the FDLE have confirmed if the vehicle driven by Crooms was stolen or mistakenly targeted as contended by relatives of the teens.

According to Sheriff Ivey, two firearms were recovered from the vehicle, but he provided no details. The case is currently under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which anticipates that the findings will be presented to the State Attorney’s Office for review within 60 to 90 days. 

"We have a deputy with a record showing some type of domestic issue and was placed on administrative leave, we have to hold people accountable," said Natalie Jackson, the attorney representing the adopted mother of Sincere Pierce, of the April incident. 

The shooting has drawn national attention along with calls for more accountability and transparency from the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. High profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump is also representing the parents of both teens. On Wednesday, more than 200 people gathered in Cocoa at U.S. 1 and State Road 520, waving signs and at times blocking portions of traffic.

Santiago-Miranda was named a sheriff's office Deputy of the Month in January 2019 and received a Life-Saving Award for his role in helping to save the life of a man who passed out and nearly drowned while swimming in the ocean near Cape Canaveral.

J.D. Gallop is a Criminal Justice/Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or jdgallop@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @JDGallop.

Eric Rogers is a Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or esrogers@floridatoday.com.