This scene has played out here before: The fatal shooting of an unarmed black man followed by an investigation that determines the police use of deadly force was justified. That finding causes an outraged community to respond with calls for a more thorough investigation but those voices are ignored.
Thankfully, Miami flipped the script.
The surprise but welcome decision came last week when the city’s civilian oversight agency convened to discuss the 2010 fatal shooting of 36-year-old Decarlos Moore. Miami Officer Joseph Marin fatally shot Mr. Moore after a traffic stop in Overtown.
The shooting occurred shortly after Officer Marin ran the license plate of Mr. Moore’s Honda Accord and computers returned that it was stolen. Mr. Moore left his vehicle and walked toward Officer Marin and his partner, field training officer Vionna Brown-Williams.
Suddenly, Moore cut short his walk to the officers, returned to his vehicle and leaned into the diver’s door to retrieve an item. Officer Marin’s attorney told investigators he saw a metallic object and opened fire, hitting Mr. Moore in the head. It turned out that the object was aluminum foil containing a small amount of cocaine. It also turned out that the vehicle was not stolen.
In an exhaustive report, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle determined in 2011 that Officer Marin could not be successfully prosecuted. And the Civilian Investigative Panel’s outside counsel reached the same decision.
As the panel met Tuesday to discuss the case, many in the community asked its members to be deliberative, to take more time to discuss the shooting and to ensure that the investigation was thorough. Many were concerned about the circumstances leading up to the stop and whether the department’s use-of-force policy was properly followed.
Community groups, including the ACLU, sought to present their own findings for the panel to consider. Many were justifiably concerned when panel chairman Thomas Cobitz indicated that the CIP had heard enough from citizens.
“We know their concerns,” Mr. Cobitz told The Miami Herald. “But our job is to look at the facts and evaluate things using a procedure. We can’t just change our procedure because our friends want us to.”
Had that been the final word, those concerned citizens would have had every right to feel that they have no voice and given ammunition to those who question the panel’s integrity.
What happened instead is what ought to have happened: the panel voted almost unanimously to take an expanded look at the circumstances leading to Mr. Moore’s death. The panel should not have to be reminded that when any citizen — unarmed or otherwise — is shot to death, it’s essential for everyone to have confidence that the investigation is transparent and fair.
“This is a real victory for the community,” Jeanne Baker, who chairs the police practice committee for the ACLU, said after Tuesday’s hearing.
So now, the panel will take another look at the case. The central outcome of this latest inquiry might not be any different from others that concluded the shooting was justified. But at least now, the citizens panel will not act as a rubber stamp and will go over all the evidence. On the critical issue of life and death, it’s vital that everyone feels the process can be trusted.