MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office has cleared a Miami police officer in the shooting death of a man in the city’s Overtown neighborhood.
According to CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald, prosecutors found officer Maurice Sodre justified in using deadly force to kill Lynn Weatherspoon on New Year’s Day 2011.
Sodre served as part of a SWAT team which backed up patrol officers responding to reports of gunshots on New Year’s night.
Investigators say Weatherspoon had a gun and refused to drop it.
While Sodre was cleared in the shooting, prosecutors did question the wisdom of using heavily armed SWAT officers on a night marked by celebratory gunfire.
“It is our reasoned opinion that the policy that placed SWAT Officer Sodre in the position of shooting Lynn Weatherspoon on New Year’s Eve be evaluated in light of the resulting police-involved shooting,” prosecutors wrote.
Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa has discontinued the practice of using SWAT officers on New Year’s Eve.
Weatherspoon, 27, was one of seven black men whose fatal shootings by police in Miami’s inner-city angered community activists and marred the tenure of former Miami Police Miguel Exposito.
So far, in that string of seven shootings in an 8-month time span, officers have been ruled justified in at least three of the cases. In five of the seven shootings, the men shot dead were armed.
Last summer, prosecutors cleared five Miami officers who shot and killed Gibson Belizaire in August 2010 in Liberty City. Belizaire, investigators said, had gotten into a firefight with police after a domestic disturbance at his ex-girlfriend’s home.
In a more controversial case, prosecutors also cleared an officer who shot and killed DeCarlos Moore in July 2010 during a traffic stop. They said Moore disobeyed police commands to surrender and reached for what the officer mistook for a weapon. It was actually a foil-wrapped stash of drugs.
As for Weatherspoon, he was a convicted felon who was not legally allowed to carry a weapon. While out with some friends to buy cigarettes, Weatherspoon took off running and refused to stop for police when ordered to do so. According to records, officer Sodre spotted Weatherspoon’s weapon and yelled for him to drop it — then fired a flurry of rounds, four of which hit Weatherspoon.
But what exactly happened at the moment of the confrontation remains unclear. One witness saw him drop the weapon, then reach down for it. Another saw him reaching for his waistband. Several civilians said they saw no weapon.
“No one claims the deceased ever pointed a firearm at police,” the close-out report notes.
Sodre did not give a formal statement to police and by law does not have to. But through his lawyer, Sodre said he had a “well-founded fear of imminent death or great bodily injury to himself and others.”
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