As Miami Beach Police met to prepare for the city’s annual Urban Beach week celebration, investigators released autopsy results showing a motorist shot and killed by police during the 2011 Memorial Day weekend suffered 16 gunshot wounds.
The details emerged Wednesday as Miami Beach Police met with residents and business owners to assure them that officers will maintain order at the hip-hop-themed revelry that attracts thousands to South Beach.
This year’s festivities are scheduled from May 24-27.
Now in its 13th year, Urban Beach Week has long drawn complaints from residents angry about the debauchery and rise in crime, while spurring visitors and civil liberties groups to criticize what they call heavy-handed police tactics.
Two years ago, as rowdy crowds swamped South Beach’s narrow streets, police killed Raymond Herisse, 22, of Boynton Beach in a barrage of gunfire after they said he refused an order to pull over while speeding down a crowded Collins Avenue in his Hyundai.
Police said Herisse’s car hit an officer and almost struck several others while crashing into barricades and cars.
Twelve officers – from Miami Beach and Hialeah – unleashed more than 100 rounds at Herisse, police said. The hail of bullets also struck and wounded three bystanders.
Herisse’s family lawyer disputes the police account, saying the car had stopped and was no longer a threat.
“We know now he was hit 16 times, and other people were shot as well,” said attorney Marwan Porter, of Stuart. “I think it’s pretty evident that this was a conscious disregard for safety, not only of my client, but for everyone who was around that day.”
The autopsy report showed Herisse was drunk at the time of his death: his blood tested positive for alcohol at a level of .14 – nearly twice the legal limit.
Also, days after the 2011 shooting, police found a weapon wrapped in a towel hidden in Herisse’s car. Then-Police Chief Carlos Noriega trumpeted the gun’s discovery as “good news.”
But a gunshot residue report released last month showed that Herisse did not fire any weapons that night.
The Miami Beach Police union has defended the officers’ actions, saying Herisse’s driving put their lives and the lives of others in danger.
The case has been kept under wraps for the past two years, with family members, wounded bystanders and their lawyers fighting to get information about the investigation.
Last month, a Miami-Dade circuit judge ordered the autopsy report released, as part of a civil suit sought by the wounded bystanders and Herisse’s relatives.
However, most of the records remain sealed while prosecutors decide whether the officers were justified in using lethal force.
Porter, the family attorney, said he will file a wrongful death lawsuit within two weeks.
As the city prepares for another weekend, some 50 residents and business owners met with Miami Beach Police Wednesday, listening to investigators and neighborhood-resource officers discuss Memorial Day preparations.
Officers assured the group that the department will be ready to deal with anything, from prostitution to pot to drunken driving.
Officers will patrol Miami Beach streets on foot, on bicycles and in marked and unmarked vehicles in 12-hour shifts from May 24 through May 27. A DUI checkpoint will be set up on May 24th and DUI saturation patrols will be rolling on the 25th and 26th.
Like last year, police will use license-plate readers on the MacArthur and Julia Tuttle causeways to check for outstanding warrants and other red flags.
“If you see anything that concerns you, call us, or grab the nearest police officer,” Sgt. Darrell Prieto said. “You won’t go a block without seeing a cop that weekend.”
During last year’s events, police made 373 arrests. That was the lowest on record since Urban Beach Week started in 2001.
“Last year was a vast improvement over previous years,” said Capt. Enrique Doce, a 24-year veteran who has overseen the department’s Memorial Day weekend plan for the past five years.
“It was safer and more enjoyable for everyone. And that’s our message: Come on over, and enjoy what we have to offer. If everyone follows the rules, we’ll all have a good time.”