The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Long road to rebuilding Miami Police


OUR OPINION: Firing of officer who killed unarmed man a positive step to restore public trust

It’s no secret that the Miami Police Department has been a troubled organization for some time. A string of shootings of young black men two years ago and a series of scandals involving officer misconduct have understandably eroded the public’s trust in the department. Last week, the department took at least one step in the right direction: It fired a police officer after a police review board declared the 2011 shooting of an unarmed man unjustified.

The action came more than two years after the officer, Reynaldo Goyos, shot and killed Travis McNeil as he sat in a car at a Little Haiti intersection. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigated and found no criminal wrongdoing by the officer. It took the Miami Firearms Review Board to make the tough call that eventually resulted in firing the officer. That’s a start on the long road to rebuilding the department’s credibility.

It’s about time. The list of problems at Miami PD keeps getting longer. Up to 10 officers are under investigation on suspicion they provided protection to a Liberty City gambling house and other crimes. Two have been arrested so far, one pleading guilty to extortion. Another officer was arrested last week on charges he tried to force a woman prisoner to perform oral sex.

A former narcotics detective was convicted in January on eight felonies, including obstruction of justice and taking drugs and money from suspects. A second detective also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges stemming from the same investigation.

And before all that, there were the shootings.

Mr. McNeil’s death on Feb. 10, 2011, was the seventh fatal shooting of a young black man by Miami police officers in just eight months. The string of violence raised tensions in inner city neighborhoods, creating a political backlash that eventually cost then-Chief Miguel Exposito his job. Chief Manuel Orosa, who replaced him, has focused on an “action plan” to improve its performance.

Federal investigators remain involved as well. In November 2011, nine months after the last shooting, the U.S. Justice Department, at the urging of local civil rights groups and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, announced it would review the shootings and department policies. That civil investigation is now more than a year old. When can we expect some results? No one wants a rushed, incomplete investigation, but Miami’s citizens deserve a full airing out of these shootings.

In Mr. McNeil’s case, although there was no criminal prosecution, the review board found the police officer violated department policy, approaching the car when he should have retreated and shooting though no one was in imminent danger, Additionally, the board said the evidence from the shooting didn’t match the officer’s version of events. Mr. McNeil was shot in the left shoulder blade area, but the officer said he had approached the car from the passenger side when he saw a “black object” on Mr. McNeil.

The police union has said it will appeal the firing of Mr. Goyos, a seven-year veteran who was part of a multiagency undercover gang task force at the time. That’s the union’s right. But no matter what happens, this is a win for the public. The review board did its job. The department responded appropriately. It’s also a win for the majority of police officers who are honest and hard-working.

It’s a start. Next up: Let’s see results from the federal investigation and the continuing crackdown on officers who protect and facilitate illegal betting. Keep cleaning house, Chief Orosa.

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