Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Shootings of unarmed black men deserve answers

Two cities in Miami-Dade County have experienced controversial shootings that resulted in unarmed black men killed by police. That’s where the similarity ends.

In the city of Miami, grieving families, one vocal congresswoman and, it is hoped, the broader community, wait impatiently for the final disposition of a Department of Justice civil-rights review of a series of police shootings that roiled members of the African-American community and shattered any sense of public trust.

Despite the lack of any conclusions from federal investigators, Miami’s police department took steps to address policy problems internally and cooperated with the feds.

Not so on Miami Beach, where the police department, abetted by its attorneys, continues to stonewall queries into its investigation of the shooting of Raymond Herisse. He was driving dangerously and erratically during the last hours of Urban Beach Weekend in 2011. He was shot to death by officers from the Beach and Hialeah. He was also unarmed, though police said that they found a gun — three days later — tucked under the front seat, wrapped in a towel.

This week, Circuit Court Judge Victoria Sigler was right to rule that the Beach must pay the legal fees for defense attorneys forced to return to court because the city had the temerity to violate her order to turn over documents related to the shooting investigation.

But the city has been blowing smoke around this investigation for years, and if any case demands Department of Justice scrutiny — and the public’s concern — it’s this one. Maybe Beach officials will deign to cooperate with an even higher authority, since they had no problem ignoring a judge’s order.

But federal officials still have to finish the city of Miami review. The last of seven seemingly back-to-back Miami police shootings occurred in February 2011, when Travis McNeil was killed. The Justice Department, prodded by local outcry and Rep. Frederica Wilson, jumped in. And that’s where we are — stalled. Last November, 18 months after the McNeil shooting, a Herald editorial criticized the sluggish pace of the federal investigation: “To date, the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to report the conclusions in a civil (not criminal) investigation of the shootings, deepening the level of resentment and frustration among those who look to the federal government for answers in these cases.”

Seven months after that, still with no answers. The Justice Department says, “The investigation is ongoing.” That much we knew.

Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa — who replaced former Chief Miguel Exposito, who led the department at the time of the shootings — took seriously the need for reform from within.

Miami police cooperated with the Justice Department, turning over reams of documents and computer files. Justice also gave Chief Orosa 90 days to develop an action plan, which he submitted. But he’s still waiting for Justice to sign off on that 12-point plan, which included creating a squad of homicide detectives to investigating police shootings; creating an internal three-member board to review such shootings, SWAT missions and car chases; and boosting the size of the office of internal affairs.

Justice first claimed it hadn’t received the plan, then — whoops! — it turned up somewhere. Clearly, Justice has its hands full. But since it inserted itself into Miami’s shooting cases, it has a responsibility to follow through and provide this community with resolution and a way forward.

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