Miami Beach must pay attorneys’ fees in Urban Beach Week shooting

 

jbrown@MiamiHerald.com

The city of Miami Beach was ordered Tuesday to pay legal costs for violating a court order requiring it to turn over documents, photographs and recordings in connection to a fatal police-involved shooting on Memorial Day 2011.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Victoria Sigler stopped short of sanctioning the city’s attorneys, but raised her voice and thoroughly scolded them for using excuses to explain away their missteps.

Your behavior, she said, is “darn right insultful to the court,’’ she said, to the amusement of a packed courtroom.

She used a few other choice words, spicing up what would have otherwise have been a pretty mundane hearing – except during this one a pair of Miami Beach’s high-powered attorneys were dressed down in front of a roomful of aspiring University of Miami law students.

Under Tuesday’s ruling, the city must pay legal fees incurred by the four attorneys who were forced to return to court because the city did not turn over information the judge ordered two months ago. The fees are likely to cost Miami Beach thousands of dollars.

But the snafu may cost more than money, as questions about the integrity of the investigation continue to dog a police department that has lost credibility after years of scandal.

In the Memorial Day weekend shooting two years ago, lawyers for Raymond Herisse, 22, the motorist who was killed and the four bystanders critically wounded have sued the city, contending Miami Beach has dragged on the investigation for two years so police can withhold, cover-up or destroy evidence to make the city less liable for its negligence and the actions of the officers.

One dozen officers – eight from Miami Beach and four from Hialeah – fired more than 116 shots at an erratic motorist during the busy Urban Beach hip-hop festival, killing him and wounding the four tourists.

The case has been turned over to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to charge the officers.

Thus far, Miami Beach has yet to produce any evidence to show that Herisse was a threat to anyone, which is, by law, the only reason police can use lethal force. In this case, he was not armed and police did not find a gun until three days later, wrapped in towel tucked under the seat of his car.

Miami Beach Police managed to keep almost everything about the case under wraps until April 3, when Sigler ordered them to release certain items to Herisse’s family. But the city’s attorneys gave conflicting information about what evidence officials had and whether they believed it was part of the judge’s order.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sigler clearly took umbrage with Miami Beach attorneys’ effort to parse her words.

Assistant Miami Beach City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner insisted, for example, that the city wasn’t required to turn over photographs because her order used the words “visual recordings.’’

“You neglected to turn over any photo of Mr. Herisse as well as any crime scene photographs of Mr. Herisse,” she said. “You don’t stand there in front of me and tell me that a photo is not a visual recording.’’

She also was perturbed that last week, Boksner told her crime scene photographs of Herisse’s body were taken, yet on Tuesday he claimed those photographs did not exist.

She ordered him to obtain a certified affidavit from the lead detective saying that the photographs didn’t exist.

If true, that raises another whole set of problems with the investigation, according to Herisse’s family lawyer, Marwan Porter.

“We don’t know what to believe, but what kind of an investigation can they be running if they don’t even take photographs of the body at the crime scene?’’

In an effort to dissuade Sigel from punishing the city, Boksner’s boss, Chief Deputy City Attorney Donald M. Papy, weighed in at the end. He claimed that Police Chief Raymond Martinez did not turn the police dispatch recordings into his office – which is why, Papy said, he did not give them over to the attorneys.

Sigler was unmoved, saying it was his duty to carry out her order.

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