Two Miami-Dade police officers who shot and killed two men in an SUV in a Little Haiti cul-de-sac seven years ago did what they had to do to protect themselves, a jury decided this week.
Officers Ryan Robinson and Michael Mendez were cleared of using excessive force in shooting deaths of the two men, after two days of deliberations by an eight-member jury in federal court.
The officers were sued in civil court by Latasha Cure, a woman in the car that night who was shot in the leg, and Cheryl Kerr, the mother of one of the dead men. Cure and Kerr were seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
The jurors found that Robinson, a police officer for 11 years, and Mendez, on the force for a decade, properly defended themselves when they pumped 27 bullets toward the Cadillac SUV as it backed toward them on Northwest 65th Street, just west of North Miami Avenue. No weapon was found in or near the SUV.
Killed in the shooting were Frisco Blackwood, the driver, and Michael Knight, a passenger in the front seat. Cure, who survived, was seated in the rear of the vehicle.
Miami-Dade assistant county attorneys Bernie Pastor and Rachel Walters, who defended Robinson and Mendez, repeatedly questioned Cure’s credibility, and exposed how she changed her story between her initial statement after the shooting and a deposition taken more recently.
Attorneys Ben Kuehne and Jeffrey Allen, who represented Cure and Kerr, portrayed the officers as overly aggressive, and proposed that the Cadillac was propelled backward after Blackwood had already been killed.
The case was unusual in many respects.
Police officers generally receive immunity in civil cases. But U.S. Magistrate Edwin G. Torres denied a motion by the officers’ attorneys to halt the trial, and the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals followed suit.
After deliberating for two days, the jury was deadlocked. But the plaintiffs and the defendants agreed to accept the jury verdict as long as a super-majority — meaning at least six jurors — agreed with one of the sides.
By a 7-1 vote, the jury believed Robinson and Mendez did not use excessive force and found they were not liable for the deaths of Blackwood and Knight.