Who’s Policing Miami Cops After 63 Unsolved Civilian Shootings?

Once again, Miami cops are living up to their brutal reputation.

By Bryan Gerhart Jul 14, 2011

Since March 2006, Florida’s Miami-Dade county has accumulated 63 unresolved police shootings. According to the office of the State Attorney, 25 of these open cases involve fatalities. This recent revelation comes as one of many questionable incidents courtesy of the Miami-Dade Police Department. In 2010 and 2011, seven Black men were slain by officers in as many months. Just last month, cell phone videos captured police killing a man at the annual Urban Beach Week festival in Miami, despite an initiative to curb civilian documentation of police activity.

According to the Miami Herald, cases involving police shootings in the Florida county can take years to resolve. A number of excuses have been made about how these cases take time, especially with less officers handling more cases due to budget constraints, but victims’ families, local communities and even the officers themselves are asking for closure.

The apparent reluctance to divulge information regarding these shootings has led many to question the accountability of the police department. Stephanie Pope, whose nephew’s 2008 killing at the hands of Miami police is still considered an open case, told the Herald that the lingering investigation has her wondering if authorities are hiding something. "I want my police department to be upfront," she said.

The Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito, whose remarks have made him a controversial figure, blames the state attorney’s office for the delay. Katherine Fernandez Rundle, a Florida state attorney whose 18 years in office have yet to see a police officer prosecuted for a killing, responded, telling the Herald, "The worst thing we can do is rush to judgement … without having all the information."

Others see this repeated problem differently.

H.T. Smith, an attorney who represented an unarmed teen who was shot and killed by Miami police in 2001, believes that the delays are intentional. He suspects that they’re allowed so that community oversight of the incidences will "die down."

Though police shootings are a longstanding issue in Miami, opportunities for a police accountability have declined in recent history. Prosecutors formerly used what they called "inquests" to review police shootings and determine whether or not they should be sent to trial, but this system has been abandoned since 2002. While the inquest system seems to have been incredibly flawed (in over 100 cases, judges never once ruled that a shooting wasn’t justified), it at least provided some semblance of transparency, as the inquests were held in an open court. Now Florida, like many other states, has no standardized means of conducting investigations of police shootings and killings.

"We don’t have any commonly accepted and adhered to police standards for anything, whether its the use of force or racial profiling," Dr. Niaz Kasravi of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, told Colorlines.com. "To top that, we don’t have good data to go by … It makes it difficult to figure out the scope of this national problem. Until we have standards and data, it’s very hard to make progress effectively."

Dale Landry, chairperson of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Committee for the Florida Conference of the NAACP, agrees.

"Here in Florida we very seldom see the FBI or the feds intervene, and it’s my firm belief that when you don’t have oversight, you start having this high number of homicides, especially questionable homicides," Landry explained to Colorlines. "The investigators of police shootings are usually from the same agency." He recalled the story of Antonio Givens, a young Florida man who was tasered and shot by police after a brief car chase. The man had a pistol, but never fired at the officer. After viewing footage of the incident, the jury charged the man with assault, rather than aggravated assault on a police officer. The police made a statement of their disapproval to a local newspaper and state attorney Willie Meggs chimed in as well, saying "I think we have a defendant here who is lucky to be alive because the officer should’ve shot him and taken his life for his conduct."

"The man who is supposed to rule in these cases basically said ‘If you don’t like the jury’s outcome, kill ’em," Landry said.

"When you go around the state of Florida, it’s like the wild, wild west," said Landry. "Let me be very clear though," he emphasized, "We have some good police officers, but its hard for people to distinguish the good from the bad when there’s no system for the police to police themselves."