The Justice Department has announced it has launched a civil investigation into the Miami police shootings of eight black men in the past year.
In the past 16 months, there have been nine police-involved shootings, according to Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez.
Since July 2010, Miami police officers shot and killed eight young black men and critically wounded a ninth man, Perez said during a recent press conference. “And this is the premise of our investigation.”
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section regularly investigates allegations involving police departments around the country to determine whether there is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that violates the Constitution or federal law, Perez said.
“The scope of our review is very surgical and specific,” said Perez. “These are civil investigations in which we look at systemic issues. We are not looking at individual accountability of a particular individual. Rather, we are looking more broadly at whether there are systemic deficiencies that result in
patterns or practices of unlawful conduct.”
The Nov. 17 press conference was held at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 99 NE Fourth St., Miami. A preliminary investigation had been opened in March 2011, one month after the last shooting.
The civil investigation, dubbed a pattern-and-practice probe, will examine the Miami police department, the training provided and whether the officers were told to shoot, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said during an interview.
“(The investigation) will look at whether (these black men) were a targeted population of people and was (targeting) a part of the training. All of that leaves an opening for families to file law suits and file criminal charges,” Wilson said.
Of the shootings since July 2010 until the last shooting in February 2011, all but one took place within the neighborhoods of Little Haiti, Overtown and Liberty City, Perez said. In two of the shootings, the victims were unarmed.
“Six out of the eight fatal shootings were by Miami police officers in specialized units like the gang unit, SWAT, tactical robbery unit and the canine unit,” Perez said. “Most of these matters are being evaluated separately with regard to potential criminal liability by the Justice Department.”
The goal of the investigation, Perez said, is not to fix the blame; rather, “our goal is to fix any problems we may identify in a comprehensive fashion.”
The investigation will also focus, in part, on then Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito’s expansion of plainclothes units that aggressively target robbers, gangs and other street criminals.
Wilson said that she is “hoping for some sort of justice, closure for the families. I am especially concerned about the family of Travis McNeil because he had no gun.”
Asked about the estimated time to complete the investigation, Perez replied, “I cannot provide a precise timetable. We will follow every logical lead, speak to all interested stakeholders and conduct a thorough review of relevant policies. In short, we will follow the evidence wherever it leads us.”
Those who wish to comment or express concerns regarding the Miami Police Department are being asked to call the Department of Justice hotline at 877-218-5228 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net