Declaring that the unsolved murder of Deputy Sgt. Chris Reyka in August 2007 “has never been considered a cold case,’’ Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Tuesday announced that his department uncovered “powerful’’ evidence in the past 18 months causing it to focus exclusively on “cop killer Shawn Labeet.”
Israel and Det. John Curcio, who held a news conference at BSO headquarters packed with deputies, including Reyka’s son, Sean declined to describe any of it, but said that a “critical’’ piece was discovered at an Oakland Park car wash — Floranada Road east of Dixie Highway, just west of the railroad tracks.
Shawn Sherwood Labeet died in a police shoot-out a month after 51-year-old Reyka’s slaying in a Pompano Beach Walgreens parking lot. By then he had killed a Miami-Dade County officer, Jose Somohano.
Labeet also went by the name Kevin Wehner, an actual person who police say wasn’t involved.
Investigators have “worked tirelessly and endlessly to conclude [the Reyka] case and to bring justice,’’ said Israel, who unveiled a new tip-line number for anyone with information: 954-880-3950. “We now believe we have compelling evidence to place Mr. Labeet, a cop killer, as the focal point of this investigation.’’
He stopped short of labeling Labeet the suspect but reminded the media that during his swearing-in ceremony in January, he made solving the case his top priority.
The murder has long weighed heavily on Reyka’s BSO colleagues, who’ve even traveled overseas to try cutting-edge forensic technology, specifically a fingerprint-detection method in England.
Curcio, who took over the case in 2010, said he’d be the one talking to those who call the tip line. He especially wants to hear from anonymous tippers who have already given information, and is specifically interested in learning more about Labeet/Wehner’s “friends and associates,’’ whether anyone ever saw Labeet/Wehner with a firearm, or in a white vehicle.
Curcio also asked that anyone knowing of Labeet/Wehner’s “criminal activity prior to and including 2007.’’
The Crime Stoppers reward in the case now stands at $278,225.
Calling himself “an extreme optimist,’’ Curcio said that he expects a resolution, which he called important to Reyka’s loved ones, his police family, and all of Broward County.
“We’re always one phone call away from solving this case,’’ he said, adding that he didn’t want to risk “compromising’’ evidence by talking about it.
The case began Aug. 10, 2007, when Reyka , an eight-year veteran on patrol, pulled into the Walgreens parking lot and noticed a suspicious car. He entered the license tag F168UJ into his computer and stepped out of his cruiser.
That’s when the killer opened fire, striking him five times. Moments later, surveillance footage showed an American-made, white, four-door sedan pulling away.
Police haven’t found either the murder weapon, a semi-automatic, or the car.
Labeet spent many years living in Miami-Dade as Kevin Wehner. He had a fraudulent driver’s license, and when he was stopped by police, he received traffic tickets that he paid. He also bought guns as Wehner, completing federally-required paperwork.
BSO homicide detectives know that Labeet had strong ties to Broward, specifically the Palm Aire community in Pompano Beach, not far from the murder scene. He also had ties to the Oakland Park area, where the license plate on the suspect white vehicle was stolen.
More importantly, detectives believe that Labeet, who attended high school in Oakland Park and had friends there and in Pompano, was near the Walgreens, 960 S. Pompano Parkway, the night of Reyka’s ambush.
Two witnesses have given sworn statements placing Labeet at a business and an apartment complex the night Reyka was murdered. One also gave police a description that closely matches Labeet’s height, weight, coloring, hairstyle, clothes and age: 25 at the time of his death.
Thirty-four days after the incident, Miami-Dade officers working a crime suppression operation tried pulling Labeet over in his neighborhood. Labeet raced home, where he got an assault rifle and shot four police officers, killing Somohano.
By day’s end, Miami-Dade police had tracked Labeet to an apartment complex in Pembroke Pines, where Miami-Dade SWAT officers shot and killed him.
Miami-Dade police couldn’t find a clear motive for what led to Labeet’s actions.
Tuesday, a prominent member of the Broward legal community had trouble finding a clear motive for BSO’s actions, questioning why investigators held a news conference to announce they’re only seeking information about Labeet.
“That’s a dangerous approach,’’ said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein “You’ll only be gathering evidence consistent with what you chose to believe. When you tell people what the answer is, they’ll want to get into the act.’’
And while he praised Curcio as a “straight shooter’’ and the “best cold-case investigator in the county,’’ and called the Reyka case “horrible for the family and the community.’’
Finkelstein wondered if shining a spotlight on Labeet wasn’t simply a morale booster for a frustrated police department.
“One of the oldest, most time-tested strategies in criminal defense is “blame it on the dead guy.’’