Posted: 1/7/2003 12:01:00 AM EDT
[url=www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20030105&Category=APN&ArtNo=301050599&Ref=AR]Trial for 11 Miami officers accused of planting guns, cover-ups[/url]
By CATHERINE WILSON
Associated Press Writer
It was a time when roving gangs stalked tourists and violent crime rates were high just about everywhere.
It was a time when Miami police might fire more than 120 bullets before the dust settled.
Federal prosecutors say the late 1990s also was a time when 13 rogue officers assigned to special street-crime units planted guns and covered up each other's crimes. Two pleaded guilty and are touted as the star witnesses against the other 11 in a corruption trial set to begin Monday.
Police killings in Miami carry a legacy all their own and have intensified already strained race relations in a city beset by political corruption, economic woes and other problems. The deaths of black and Hispanic men and the subsequent acquittals of officers triggered riots or smaller street clashes six times from 1980 to 1995.
The latest police scandal is the city's worst since the 1980s when the so-called "Miami River Cops" stole cocaine from drug traffickers and sold the drug themselves. Three drug boat guards drowned when they jumped into the Miami River to avoid the uniformed officers. Eventually, more than 100 officers were arrested, fired or disciplined.
"The history of Miami has been characterized by ugly police-community relations," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "There is a loss of confidence, if not outright hostility, by the minority community because of the great number of shootings of typically unarmed black young men."
Community outrage over the four shootings spotlighted in the indictment from 1995 to 1997 and a total of 33 police killings in the past dozen years has inspired significant change.
Voters approved a civilian oversight board and members are about to be named. The police department imposed a tighter policy on officers allowing them to fire their weapons only when facing an imminent deadly threat.
Police Chief Raul Martinez, who led the city's shooting review board for five years, quit in November days after a 12-year review of police shootings by The Miami Herald. Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney agreed to take over in the Hispanic-majority city four days before the start of trial.
A jury will hear about four shootings that left three blacks dead, one wounded and one uninjured. Prosecutors say the guns were planted in all four cases to make it look as if three robbery suspects, a drug suspect and a homeless man were armed. An attorney for two of the indicted officers said the shootings were justified.
"The justifiable use of force and deadly force laws have been in existence for years," said attorney Richard Sharpstein. "All of these shootings were well within those parameters."
The shootings were investigated internally and by state prosecutors but resulted in no charges. Federal investigators focused on what happened after the officers fired.
In what become known as the Interstate 395 shooting, prosecutors say guns were planted after two fleeing tourist robbers were shot to death in 1995. They say six officers plotted over a barbecue lunch on their next work day to get their story straight, and the lies about the deaths of Antonio Young and Derrick Williams persist to this day.
In a second case, reputed drug dealer Richard Brown was killed when a SWAT team fired 123 shots into his house while his teenage granddaughter cowered in the bathroom. Sharpstein said one of the last things the girl saw her grandfather do before she hid was go for his gun. Prosecutors say officers planted a gun outside a sealed window.
Daniel Hoban, a homeless alcoholic schizophrenic, was wounded in the leg when officers thought his radio was a gun. Another throwdown weapon allegedly materialized.
In the last shooting, three police shots missed Steven Carter, but investigators say a gun was planted under a backyard tree.
Brad Brown, president of the Miami-Dade County chapter of the NAACP, blames the shootings on a mentality among some officers that they're above the law. "Once you start stepping over the line on what's acceptable, it's only a little bit further and they become involved in the criminality themselves," Brown said.
The trial is expected to last three to five months, and reaction to the verdict will be a test of police planning and community resolve.
"It would be what I consider another slap in the face if things come out squeaky clean for these officers," said community activist Bess McElroy, who helped nominate the new civilian review board.
Joseph Serota, who heads a committee that recommended an ethnically diverse pool of nominees for the review board, said a conviction will help the community and an acquittal or mistrial will reinforce the need for a civilian board to investigate and discipline corrupt officers.
"Here is the community coming together recognizing that they have a problem. The problem is not simply black versus white," Serota said. "We need to get off on a new foot here, and all of these things are going to help do that."
13 rogue officers assigned to special street-crime units planted guns and covered up each other's crimes ... Eventually, more than 100 officers were arrested, fired or disciplined.
Over a 100! I find it strange how so often here people say "but only a small fraction of the cops are the problem." Meet a jerk cop, "oh he's the 0.01% that's the problem." Meet a cop that doesn't like guns, "oh he's the 0.01% that's the problem." How long is it before you realize there is a problem when every single cop you meet is anti-gun and doesn't follow the law they're supposed to enforce? Nah, most of you guys are too hung-up on the strange belief that it's only a small portion.z
Damn LEO bashers.