The investigation into the shooting of a motorist and four bystanders by police on Memorial Day weekend two years ago took an unexpected detour Wednesday. In one eight-hour interlude:
• Miami Beach P.D. told The Miami Herald in an email that a key piece of evidence — tapes containing radio chatter between officers on the street and police dispatchers — had been destroyed as a matter of routine housekeeping. The department cited state law stipulating that such records can lawfully be disposed of after 30 days.
It was a startling revelation. The dispatches, which would indicate what Miami Beach and Hialeah officers saw, heard and did before they fired 116 shots at an erratic motorist during Urban Beach Week 2011, killing him and wounding four tourists, are crucial to determining whether police acted properly.
• Informed that the city had said the records were destroyed, the attorney for the dead motorist expressed outrage. “Those recordings of police transmissions represent the unedited truth of what happened, and that’s all we’re asking. The family wants to know why their son was killed,’’ said Marwan Porter, representing the family of Raymond Herisse.
Porter and lawyers representing the four wounded bystanders are demanding various police records, including the dispatch tapes, in hopes of proving that police acted recklessly when they opened fire.
• The announcement by records custodian John Babcock was immediately contradicted by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. Spokesman Ed Griffith called the information “completely erroneous” and said the lead detective in the case had just verified that the tapes had been preserved.
• Asked by email to explain the discrepancy, Babcock replied, “What case are you talking about?” then referred a reporter to the city attorney’s office, which did not return a phone call.
• Reached on his cellphone, Police Chief Ray Martinez said it was his understanding that the dispatch tapes had already been turned over to the civil plaintiffs.
“I’m not sure why they didn’t get them, but I will make sure new copies are sent out right away,’’ Martinez said.
He called Babcock’s statement about their disposal a misunderstanding.
As of Wednesday evening, the crucial tapes remained elusive despite a four-week-old court order that they be turned over.
The Miami Herald had requested the tapes separately, and before Wednesday the city had offered various rationales for not turning them over.
After one such request, Assistant City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner said, to his knowledge no such tapes exist. When the request was resubmitted, Bobby Hernandez, a public information sergeant, explained that the chatter would not be released because the law exempts from public scrutiny any “video or audio recordings that depict or record the killing of a person.”
In response to that, the newspaper narrowed its request to seek chatter up to but not including the moment Herisse was hit by 16 bullets.
That request prompted the reply from Babcock.
“The tape was destroyed IAW [in accordance with] the disposition instructions in the Florida General Schedule 1 #335,’’ Babcock said in the email to The Herald Wednesday morning.