MIAMI (CBS4) – The deaths of seven African-American men at the hands of Miami police officers over a seven month period beginning in July of last year touched off outrage in the inner city communities who demanded an investigation.
Now the U.S. Justice Department has announced that they will conducted a ‘pattern and practice’ probe to determine if the shooting of these men violated their constitutional rights.
“The department’s investigation will seek to determine whether there were systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers of MPD,” according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “During the course of the investigation, the Justice Department will consider all relevant information, particularly the efforts that MPD has undertaken to ensure compliance with federal law”
The probe, which is not a criminal investigation, will focus on the police department’s training in the use of deadly force and whether it was necessary in each of these cases. Six of the seven shootings are currently under review by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
The first shooting to come under fire from the community occurred on July 5th, 2010 when DeCarlos Moore was shot outside an Overtown supermarket. At the time the police union called the shooting justified. They said Moore disobeyed an order not to return to his vehicle. When he rushed back to his car to retrieve something, rookie Miami Police Officer Joseph Marin thought it was a gun. Marin shot and killed Moore. No weapon was found on Moore.
Then police Chief Miguel Exposito refused to discuss the shooting and did not release information to a civilian oversight panel looking into it.
In August, 21-year-old Gibson Junior Belizaire was shot during a gun battle following a domestic call. Police say he fired at officers several times after he bailed out of his car and during a foot chase.
27-year-old Lynn Weatherspoon was shot and killed on New Year’s Eve in Overtown. Police at the time said he was a felon with a long rap sheet who was shot after drawing his pistol on officers.
Exposito said the confrontations resulted from a crackdown on violent crime on inner-city neighborhoods long plagued by drugs, gangs and murders. Exposito said in most cases officers are protecting their own lives or the lives of others. In at least two of the cases however, including Moore and Travis McNeil who was shot and killed in his car in February 2011, the men were unarmed. McNeil was shot as he reached for something in his car during a traffic stop. At the time, officer Reinaldo Goyo said thought it was a gun, but no weapon was found on McNeil or in the car.
Exposito was fired in September for insubordination. Late Thursday morning, Exposito issued a written response to the federal probe.
“As I have stated in the past as Chief and since my separation from the Miami Police Department, I welcome any investigation into the actions of the officers, so much so, that I invited the US Justice Department, through the FBI’s Civil Rights Division to participate in all of our post-shooting meetings where evidence and material facts were discussed at length. This action on my part, which was unprecedented in the police department is a good practice, and was an example of my philosophy of transparency.”
In the statement, Exposito said in the aftermath of the shootings he reached out to and met with the families of those who died to explain to them that the shootings would be investigated. He said he was unable to give them specific details because they were also under review by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and considered open investigations.
Exposito also pointed out that “the number of fatal shootings in my first year at the helm of the police department was no more than the number of fatal shootings in last year of the previous Chief.”
“When I took over the department, the community requested an increase of police presence. I doubled the number of tactical officers, whose primary function was crime suppression from 65 to 130.” wrote Exposito. “Due to this increase of violent crime as a result of drug sales, gang activity and other factors, these tactical officers were assigned to work around the clock and on weekends, something that they had not done prior. As a result, violent crimes such as robberies and sexual assaults dropped to levels not seen in Miami in over 40 years.”
Acting Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa did not comment on the probe to the Miami Herald, but police spokesman Delrish Moss said the department is revamping itself under the new chief.
The Miami Police Department said they’ve played their full cooperation with the probe.