The Broward County State Attorney’s Office has dropped all charges against a 23-year-old who was choke-slammed by a deputy following a dispute over an alleged pot-smoking session inside a Weston gym.
Khalil Pace was detained by Broward sheriff's deputies outside the Bonaventure Town Center Club on December 22 after a kerfuffle with gym staff, who booted him and his friends from the property, claiming they had been blazing marijuana in the bathroom. In a viral TikTok video, Pace is seen sitting peacefully on a concrete planter near the building, trying to make a phone call, when deputy Patrick Keegan wraps an arm around his neck and violently pulls him down to the pavement.
The sheriff's office booked Pace on charges of resisting arrest without violence and disorderly conduct, but prosecutors have dropped both counts.
"There is no likelihood of conviction if this case were to go to trial," assistant state attorney Patricia Campbell wrote in a February 1 memo referencing the resisting arrest charge.
Pace told New Times in the aftermath of the incident that he was terrified when the deputy turned violent.
"I just felt so hopeless in the moment," Pace said. "It really traumatized me."
The Broward Sheriff's Office tried to justify the arrest by claiming the group was argumentative, making a stir inside the gym upon being told to leave. In the arrest report, Keegan claims Pace caused a disturbance for "the mostly elderly members" at the facility by yelling and using profanity, and that he refused to provide his name for the trespass warning.
Pace said that gym staff was rude, presumptuous, and overbearing and that they kicked him out based on a false assumption that he was smoking pot. He told New Times an employee harangued him and his friends, saying, "That's why you guys shouldn't be smoking in the restroom. Don't come here anymore."
After he argued with the staff, deputies separated Pace from his friends and had him sit on the concrete planter outside the building. Although his peers were riled up about his detainment, Pace said he told them to remain calm.
The video captures Keegan hovering over a seated Pace and telling Pace's friends to stay a few feet back. When Pace tries to call his mom to let her know what is going on, Keegan appears to object. Pace tries to hand his phone to a friend, and Keegan reacts by suddenly ripping him to the ground in a chokehold.
A Broward Sheriff's Office spokesperson tells New Times its review into the use of force is still pending.
Pace's lawyer, Alex Jean, did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
Apart from questions about excessive force, attorney Aaron Terr says the case would raise First Amendment concerns if the sheriff's office arrested Pace on a disorderly conduct charge solely because of a verbal tiff.
"If you're inciting imminent violence or you're making a true threat of violence to somebody, that's not protected, but the police can't arrest you just because you use foul language or you insulted or cursed at somebody," says Terr, who was not directly involved in the case.
Terr, public advocacy director at Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, says Pace's arrest represents another example of how vague language in disorderly conduct statutes gives police room to carry out unconstitutional arrests. Florida's disorderly conduct statue encompasses behavior that "corrupt[s] the public morals or outrage[s] the sense of public decency."
"The interpretation differs so much from one person to the next, and I think that's the danger in a case like this. This officer may be considering cursing around older women to be incredibly offensive and maybe that was part of the motivation for the arrest," Terr adds. "You easily see how that standard can be abused."