The U.S. Justice Department’s long-awaited report finding excessive use of force by Miami police officers might not be a criminal indictment, but it reads like one.
The findings, released last week after a 20-month investigation, depict a dysfunctional department with poor firearms training, tactics and supervision — along with sloppy internal investigations of police-involved shootings that often drag on for years with no discipline or accountability.
Justice’s civil rights division, prodded into action by seven fatal police shootings of African-American men, found that the Miami Police Department had fully investigated only 24 of 33 shooting incidents from 2008 to 2011, allowing “multiple investigations to remain unfinished for three years or longer.” Seven officers were involved in one-third of those shootings.
“Had the shooting investigations been completed in a timely fashion, corrective action could have been undertaken and may have prevented the harm that can result from officers’ repeated shootings,” said Justice’s letter of findings, signed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez.
Legally speaking, Justice officials found the 1,100-officer department engaged in an unconstitutional “pattern or practice’” of excessive use of force, violating the Fourth Amendment rights of people shot at by Miami officers over the four-year period. The 13-page letter addressed to Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Manuel Orosa is laden with details of mistakes and misconduct.
For Sheila McNeil, the mother of Travis McNeil, an unarmed 28-year-old man fatally gunned down by a Miami police officer in 2011, Justice’s report was long overdue.
“It took the lives of seven young men for [Justice] to take a look at what was going on,” said McNeil as she sat in the courtyard of her Overtown apartment. “We felt abandoned for a long time.”
McNeil said she hoped the report would remind the public of what she considers to be the needless killing of her son and other black men — and what the police department must do to make amends.
“I want people to remember that his life was snatched from him at a young age,” said McNeil, who is raising Travis’ 12-year-old son.
“When his son needs him most, he’s not here,” said McNeil, whose family filed a federal lawsuit Friday on the son’s behalf. “I just dread the fact that he died the way he did, by police who were sworn to protect the public.”
In January, Chief Orosa fired Officer Reynaldo Goyos, who fatally shot McNeil and wounded his first cousin, Kareem Williams, after they had visited a club in the Little Haiti area on the night of Feb. 10, 2011. The police department’s Firearms Review Board found Goyos, who was working as a member of an undercover federal gang task force, had used “unjustified deadly force.”
The McNeil shooting was one of three found to be “unjustified” by the city’s police department, according to Justice’s report, though federal investigators have identified “other shootings that appear unjustified and may have resulted from tactical and training deficiencies.”
The other two unjustified Miami police shootings involved an unarmed motorist who reached for his wallet after a traffic stop and an armed man who fired his gun toward a crowd in front of a restaurant before fleeing in his vehicle.