Justice Department Finds Excessive Force In Spate Of Miami Police Shootings

In a review of Miami Police officers’ 33 intentional shootings between 2008 and 2011, including seven that resulted in the deaths of black men in the inner city, the Department of Justice found Miami Police had engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

Among the shootings investigated by the Department were the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist, injury to several others, and several shootings in which officers never identified themselves as officers or warned that they would shoot. The investigation is the second of the urban police department. In its letter of findings, the Justice Department noted that improvements seemed imminent at the conclusion of a first investigation in 2006, but that systemic problems have “reoccurred,” resulting in a substantial increase in shootings, rather than an improvement in safety.

The DOJ attributed several of the incidents to officers’ aggressive pursuit of suspects they had reason to believe were armed, without waiting for backup. Officers frequently turned to guns without sufficiently considering lower-force options, including in situations involving the mentally ill and mentally compromised – a population that is particularly vulnerable to excessive police force. In one instance, officers entered the home of a person they knew was possibly armed without waiting for backup. When the seemingly inebriated person walked toward the officers with a knife in hand, officers shot him. In another instance, officers surrounded a man they knew to be mentally ill while a Crisis Intervention Team was attempting to speak with him. When the man became increasingly agitated and lunged toward them with a broken bottle, the officers shot.

Officers also fired bullets without regard to potential risks to the community, from too great a distance to assure accuracy, or without sufficient precision. The DOJ logged several reports of stray bullets being lodged into the homes and vehicles of bystanders, demonstrating the potential for even more unintended harm, with grave disregard for community safety.

The report concluded by lamenting that the problems identified in an earlier report – and associated corruption – appear to be “entrenched” in spite early promise for improvement. “Our second investigation has revealed systemic concerns about MPD’s use of deadly force and comes amid another round of highly publicized allegations of corruption within the ranks of MPD,” the report states. The Department will now be subject to monitoring by a federal judge, according to the Miami Herald.