MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Three years after a police sting went horribly wrong, resulting in the death of four people, the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office released hours of the police department’s own surveillance video that offers a chilling insight into that fateful night.
“You take him down, you hit him in the head, you have to be brutal, you have to be rough with these people,” Roger Gonzalez tells Rosendo Betancourt, as the two men drive around a section of South Dade known as The Redland.
Gonzalez is explaining how they are going to burst into a drug dealer’s house and rob all of the marijuana and cash that’s inside.
He adds if the folks inside the house resist – or start shooting – then they have to shoot as well. He details the importance of returning fire as soon as possible.
“If there is no return fire it gives them more of a chance to aim and kill one of us,” he says, “so when something like that goes down you hit the floor or get behind something and start shooting back.”
What Gonzalez didn’t realize, is that Betancourt was a police informant and the house they were going to rob was part of an elaborate sting set up by police to capture Gonzalez and his gang of home invaders.
But police bungled the sting and within hours of this conversation between Gonzalez and Betancourt, both men would be dead, as would two other members of Gonzalez’s gang. All gunned down by police.
The video released Wednesday by the state attorney’s office follows a highly critical report of the operation in which prosecutors said only the killing of Gonzalez was justified. The report, however, described the events surrounding the other three killings as “suspicious and/or disturbing”
Prosecutors released video from two police helicopters and a police plane showing Gonzalez, Betancourt and the two other gang members, Roger Gonzalez Jr (Gonzalez’s son) and Antonio Andrew, approaching the house under the cover of darkness. The video shows the robbers being spooked by something. Two run into the woods. Two others, including Gonzalez, stay behind. Gonzalez is seen taking a position behind one of the cars moments before he’s shot.
Missing from the video are the actual shootings. Prosecutors refused to release the portion of the video showing the informant Betancourt surrendering to police – placing his hands in the air, and then getting down on ground – before being shot.
According to prosecutors: “It is clear on the video that he raises his arms up in the air (as in surrender mode) and immediately one of the aviation officers announces over the air that the subject at the (northeast corner) is surrendering. The person with raised arms is seen (who later turns out to be the Confidential Informant) getting down on his knees whereupon he lies down on the ground on his stomach. Moments later the operator of the video camera swings the camera away from the scene in an effort to locate the other subjects who have fled. (Moments later) multiple gunshots are heard on the UC vehicle recorder. These shots represent the killing of the Confidential Informant, Rosendo Betancourt Garcia.”
They also didn’t release video purportedly showing another of the robbers lying motionless on the ground before being killed.
The eight prosecutors who signed the report stated essentially that they didn’t believe that the 11 officers who fired their weapons had been honest with them.
Nevertheless, prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to prove the killings were a crime.
A lawyer representing two of the men who died call the shootings unjustified.
“We have a system of justice that requires apprehension, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing,” attorney Justin Leto told Miami New Times. “And I don’t see any evidence that would indicate that these people needed to be shot on sight.”
Leto’s brother Matthew represents Garcia’s family. “The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they had promised,” Matthew Leto told New Times.
While the videos may not show the killings, they do reveal the chilling mindset of the gang’s leader – Gonzalez. As Gonzalez and Betancourt drive around casing the house before the robbery, he tells Betancourt he needs to keep one thing in his mind – going home safe after the job.
“So what do I have to do to go home,” he asks rhetorically. “I attack these people and take them down ruthlessly. I need the (expletive) money. I need what they got and I got to take it.”
But instead of going home that night both men ended up in the morgue.