Community demands answers in police shootings PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 30 November 2007
Sample ImageMIAMI – Tempers flared and accusations of racism were levied on Wednesday at a meeting about the recent deaths of four black men in police-related incidents.

The forum, hosted by the Community Relations Boards of Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, took place at the Joseph Caleb Center in Liberty City. The meeting filled a large conference room nearly to its capacity.
The majority of the approximately 100 people in the audience appeared to be either law enforcement or employees of county or city government. A small, but very vocal group of community members that included relatives of the dead men attended.

While waiting for the forum to start, Eddie Lewis, president of the National Black Police Association’s Miami-Dade chapter expressed hope that the community would wait until the investigations are complete before reaching conclusions.

“We can play Monday morning quarterback all we want. When the officers are out on the street, they have split seconds to make some decisions,” the 19-year law enforcement officer told the Broward Times.

Reading from a prepared statement, CRB Chairman the Rev. Harold Vieux said, “The community meeting was being conducted because of the fatal shootings of three men and the death of another during encounters with Miami-Dade police officers…in one, three-week period.”

Michael Knight and Frisco Blackwood, both 21, were killed on Nov. 12 in Little Haiti after police stopped them for running a red light. Details of the events that led to the shootings are in dispute. Tamika Cure, a passenger with the young men, was also wounded in that encounter.

A Miami-Dade police officer shot and killed 19-year-old unarmed Haitian immigrant Gracia Beaugris on Oct. 26 after what police said was an altercation with a Miami-Dade police officer in North Miami, according to published news reports.
Roger Brown, 40, died Nov. 7 after a struggle with police officers outside a tire shop in north central Miami-Dade. The owner of the shop, at 1655 NW 95th St., called police just after 7 p.m. after noticing the man’s truck being driven erratically, according to The Miami Herald. Officers immobilized Brown with a stun gun. He was taken to North Shore Medical Center, where he died.

A panel assembled to answer the community’s questions on Wednesday included representatives from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, the Miami-Dade Police Department and its community relations boards.

The panel also included Miami-Dade Police Chief Robert Parker and Miami-Dade commissioners Barbara Jordan, Dorrin Rolle, Audrey Edmonson and Dennis Moss.

In what appeared to be an effort to justify the geographic locations of the police incidents, Parker rattled off a list of crime statistics broken down by race.

Parker warned the audience that “as I cite some of the stats, they are going to infuriate some people.”

According to Parker, blacks make up 20 percent of the population in Miami-Dade County. But of the 4,242 robbery subjects arrested in Miami-Dade County in 2006, 72 percent were black, he said.

Following his statements, Parker introduced Officer Down, a video presentation of an ABC News broadcast on the increasing number of law enforcement officers being gunned down, and the proliferation of assault weapons on the streets.

Continuing with the panelists’ presentations, Miami-Dade Police Major Angus Butler provided an overview of police procedure following police-involved shootings.

Her patience visibly wearing thin, longtime community activist Georgia Ayers stood and angrily announced, “I’m going to be rude.”

Ayers insisted that the panelists’ statements were unnecessarily lengthy and that instead of speaking, the panel needed to answer the audience members’ questions.

Vieux rebuffed Ayers’ and other audience members’ demands that the statements cease, prompting Commissioner Edmonson to take the microphone.

After determining that the presentations would take an additional 15 minutes, Edmonson said, “Can we make it five?”

She added, “I know most of those people and I would like to hear from them.”

After a few minutes of heated exchanges between the audience and the panel, Butler continued his comments, which included updates on the four investigations. According to Butler, “the toxicology report was back and there was a very high level of cocaine in Mr. Brown’s system,” to which an unknown audience member replied, “That’s what you always say!”

Butler also gave an update on the status of the investigations into the shootings, including new details regarding the shooting of Beaugris. According to Butler, an officer was working a robbery intervention detail when he conducted an investigative stop at Northwest 128th Street and 7th Ave. During the investigative stop, a physical altercation ensued.

“We have taken six civilian statements and Officer Villano has provided a sworn statement as well,” Butler said.

Reportedly, it was not a police radio communication that brought police backup, but five 911 calls from citizens.

“Two of these citizens specifically described what was going on at the scene. In their telephone calls, one of them described it as a group of individuals that were beating a singular individual. The other person said it was a group of individuals beating on a police officer,” said Butler.

Butler went on to provide an update on the investigation into the shooting deaths of Blackwood and Knight.

Butler said, “The vehicle that Blackwood and Knight were driving was an overdue rental that was to have been returned on Sept. 22 and had been rented through fraudulent use of credit card.”

While attempting to conduct a traffic stop, Officers Michael Mendez and Ryan Robinson of the robbery intervention detail cornered the fleeing vehicle at a dead-end road. After exiting the police car, Robinson told the passengers to raise their hands.

As Butler continued his report, audience members provided immediate replies to his statements.

Butler said, “The vehicle quickly accelerated backwards at Officer Robinson. He discharged his weapon, his firearm.”

Audience member: “Fifty times?”

Butler: “Excuse me?”

Audience member: “Fifty times?”

Butler: “No.”

Several audience members: “How many times, how many times he shot him?”

Butler replied that there were two officers and “a total of 27 casings.”

Audience member: “It was more than that, we went to the spot! That’s a lie.”

Butler: “The passenger Michael Knight got out of the vehicle and collapsed there.”

Audience member: “Murder.”

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Photo by Sumner Hutchenson III: Robert Parker, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
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