Nothing in Raymond Herisse’s past prepared his family for the explosive way that his young life ended.
He was 22 when he was killed on a South Beach street, in a frightening war-like moment that his family likens to being executed by a police firing squad.
An avalanche of 116 shots were fired by police that early May morning, leaving Herisse slumped over his steering wheel, his left side riddled with bullet wounds. In all, he was shot 16 times.
Two years and multiple lawsuits later, Miami Beach police have yet to produce evidence that Herisse did anything to deserve a death sentence.
Four bystanders were also seriously wounded in the wild pre-dawn attack, which happened amid a throng of tourists visiting for the city’s annual Urban Beach Week.
The criminal probe into whether the 12 police officers who participated in the shooting continues, amid concerns voiced in court that Miami Beach police covered up, altered or destroyed evidence to justify their use of deadly force.
In fact, their account of what happened began to unravel almost from day one. An examination of the record by The Miami Herald has found a series of inconsistencies, contradictions and omissions in the police narrative of what happened.
Among the puzzling issues:The officer: The videos:
The judge weighs in
Frustrated by delays, family members, wounded bystanders and their lawyers filed a public records lawsuit last year demanding that Miami Beach turn over information so that the victims can pay their medical expenses and recover their loss of wages.
Miami Beach police responded that, by law, they could keep the evidence secret because the investigation is not yet complete.
But last month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Sigler ordered the department to release the autopsy, the 911 calls, all radio dispatches and video recordings connected to the case. All other evidence will remain under wraps for now.
Sigler, however, seemed disturbed by testimony at the hearing that the final report had been languishing on a supervisor’s desk since last year.
At the hearing, Sgt. Howard Bennett testified that the investigation has taken so long because it involved four different crime scenes, along with analyzing reams of evidence. The ballistics tests alone, which involved a dozen different firearms and 116 shell casings, took nine months, he explained.
But attorney Jasmine Rand, who represents victim Cedrick Perkins, contended there is no legitimate reason why the probe has dragged on so long. The delay, she insisted, is part of the department’s effort to impede justice and to find some way to explain its use of excessive force.
“We have alleged that there has been an improper investigation and there were problems with the evidence from the very beginning of the case and tampering with evidence,’’ Reed argued.
Bennett, the plaintiff lawyers also learned, is one of the main investigators involved in the criminal inquiry — even though he was a supervisor on the scene at the time of the shooting.
Bennett testified that he was the “response platoon supervisor’’ who was following the incident as it unfolded on Collins Avenue. Bennett further said that as the supervisor of the criminal probe, his job is to keep track of “all the different aspects’’ under investigation, including witness statements, DNA evidence, ballistic evidence, crime scene evidence and coordinating the processing of Herisse’s vehicle.
Bennett’s role in the criminal probe is a clear conflict of interest, said Chuck Drago, a police-practices consultant and former Oviedo, Fla., police chief and assistant chief in Fort Lauderdale.
“If he was on that scene, then there is a real possibility he could be called as a witness. It’s just astonishing that he would be involved in the probe at all,’’ Drago said.
The 911 calls released by police last month give a glimpse into the chaos that ensued following the shooting, with panicked callers describing victims sprawled in pools of blood and writhing in pain after being shot. During several of the calls, it’s difficult to hear the caller over screaming in the background.
“I have a guy — a dude — shot in the chest man!’’ said one frightened caller, explaining he was near 14th and Collins.
Seconds later, another call to 911:
“There is a person bleeding in our lobby,’’ said an employee of the Delores Hotel, 1420 Collins Ave. The caller screams into the lobby: “I’m calling 911!” and then tells dispatchers that the victim, in his 20s, came into the hotel from outside and was apparently shot. In the background people are shouting and the hotel’s alarm is screeching.
“All I can see is blood!’’ the man says before hanging up.
Despite Sigler’s order, Miami Beach police have so far not released the radio calls, quite possibly the evidence most likely to shed light on what police thought was happening and why Herisse was killed: the chatter between individual police officers and the 911 call center.
“The judge ruled we were entitled to all radio dispatches,” said Marwan Porter, attorney for Herisse's family. “I’m not sure why they won’t release the police tapes, except if they are afraid of what we will hear.”
Bobby Hernandez, a public information sergeant with Miami Beach, refused to provide them to The Miami Herald because, he said, the law exempts from public scrutiny “video or audio recordings that depict or record the killing of a person.”
The autopsy report on Herisse that was released showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit. He had been shot 16 times in his head, chest and left side.
Alex Bello, president of Miami Beach’s Fraternal Order of Police, said the fact that Herisse was drunk speaks volumes about his behavior.
“You can’t reason with a guy who is twice the legal limit,’’ he said.
To date, none of the 12 officers involved has given a statement to investigators, Hernandez said.
The incident started shortly before 4 a.m. when Herisse, who was driving erratically, refused a Hialeah police officer’s order to pull over, according to Miami Beach police. Hialeah is one of several police departments that assist Miami Beach during the busy weekend, which draws upward of 250,000.
That officer, identified in a Miami Beach incident report as Oscar Amago, later told investigators that Herisse was driving a blue Hyundai southbound in the northbound lanes in the 1600 block of Collins Avenue. According to the report, the Hyundai struck Amago, who was riding a bicycle, then crashed into numerous vehicles as it continued south, Miami Beach police said. Officers had to jump from their bikes to avoid being run over as the Hyundai then crushed the bicycles, police said at the time.
The report does not say if Amago or any other police officers were treated for injuries. Amago declined to comment for this story.
On the YouTube videos, several shots are heard out of sight as the Hyundai continues south and comes to a stop. After about a minute, a dozen police officers open fire at 13th and Collins Avenue.
Lawyers for the victims say that it’s important to distinguish the two crime scenes: the initial one at 16th and Collins and the second one at 13th and Collins.
By law, police officers may only use lethal force if they believe their lives or the lives of others are at risk.
Herisse’s family said that no matter what Raymond did to warrant being stopped by police — whether he struck a police officer, or was drunk and driving erratically — spraying him with gunfire after he had stopped was a criminal act.
“He clearly wasn’t a threat at the time his car was stopped,’’ Porter said.
Hours after the killing, then-Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega told reporters that there were unconfirmed witness reports that Herisse was shooting out of his car as police tried to stop him. But Noriega said they did not find a gun.
On the third day, Noriega announced they had found a black Berretta 92-F semiautomatic under the seat of the car. It had been covered in a towel, which had made it difficult to see, Noriega said.
“Everything is panning out the way we believe it happened,’’ Noriega said, calling the find “great news.’’
It took a few days to find the weapon because investigators were focused on processing the crime scenes and interviewing witnesses, not searching the car, the chief explained.
“How is finding a gun great news?’’ Porter said. “It could have only been great news to them because it helped give them justification for their use of lethal force.’’
It wasn’t until almost two years later that police released the laboratory analysis showing that Herisse never fired a weapon that day.
The Boynton angle
Boynton Beach Detective Brian Anderson said he saw the photograph of Herisse in The Miami Herald in connection with the Urban Beach shooting. Anderson noted in his brief report that he recognized — from a mug shot — that Herisse fit the description of a suspect who had wounded a gas station attendant six months earlier.
That would lead to a press release and headlines like this one in the Sun Sentinel: “Man killed by Miami Beach Police was Boynton armed robber.”
The Miami Herald recently reviewed that case file, which Boynton Beach said is now closed.
It was Nov. 21, 2010, four days before Thanksgiving. Marvin Andrews, then 30, had been working the graveyard shift at the BP station, 645 Boynton Beach Blvd., when he left the station’s convenience store to use the restroom, on the east side of the building.
Andrews told police that he was just finishing his business when two men opened the bathroom door, pointed guns and ordered him to get down. Andrews refused and daringly rushed one of the gunmen when the gun discharged, twice. Andrews was shot in his chin.
According to the police report, Andrews pulled out his own gun and fired several shots into the air as the suspects ran away.
Within a couple of hours, Andrews gave a tape-recorded statement to police from the hospital about what happened.
“I know who did it,’’ he said. “I know [I] could hear his voice.’’
“Can you give us a description of them?’’ the detective asked.
“No, it happened too fast, man,’’ Andrews said.
The men wore shirts over their faces. But Andrews insisted that the gunman who shot him was Randal Ramsey, a man with a long rap sheet, including weapons charges. Andrews said he knew him from the neighborhood. Boynton Beach police dispatch records show that Andrews reported that Ramsey had threatened him the week before.
The Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Ramsey. But in a taped interview recorded by police, Ramsey denied having anything to do with the robbery.
After the initial interviews, there is no indication in the file that any further work was done on the case.
But on June 2, 2011 — six months later and just after the Memorial Day shooting — Anderson read an article in The Herald about Herisse, whom he noted lived around the corner from the BP station. In his report, he said the photo accompanying the story about the fatal police-involved shooting “fit the description of the shooter at the BP station.’’
A problem with that is that the victim said earlier he could not give a physical description. Video of the incident is dark and murky.
Nonetheless, Andrews was asked to look at a photo line-up and the victim “positively identified Herisse as the shooter without hesitation,’’ Anderson wrote in his report.
Contacted by The Miami Herald, Andrews declined to give an interview without being compensated, which is against the newspaper’s policy.
The Herald attempted without success to interview the lead detective, Anderson, about the case. He requested a list of written questions, then declined to answer them.
The police department’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Slater, declined to comment, and Police Chief Matthew Immler did not respond to requests for an interview.
Porter said that it was just “too convenient” that Boynton Beach was able to pin a crime on a man who, having been shot and killed by police, could not defend himself.
“It doesn’t make any sense,’’ said Drago, the police consultant. “You can’t identify someone whose face you didn’t see. And if you don’t have a description, where do you pick your photo lineup from?
Bello, Miami Beach’s FOP president, said he remains confident that Herisse’s criminal record, in combination with the positive identification from the victim of the armed hold-up, shows that Herisse was an unpredictable and dangerous man.
“It begs the question what his actual motives were on the beach, what was he doing,?” Bello said. “When an officer goes to stop you and you refuse, this is what happens. Many, many people get stopped and as long as you comply and stop there is no issue.’’
Two years after the shooting, the victims’ medical bills continue to pile up.
Carlson Saint Louis, 26, of Pompano Beach, was shot in the hip. Doctors had to reconstruct it with metal plates, screws and rods.
Crystal Rivera, a single mother from New York, has had numerous operations on her left arm and has had to move in with her mother, who helps care for her.
Sarah Garcia has racked up $120,000 in medical bills. Shot in the arm and leg, she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and has not been able to return to work.
Cedrick Perkins, a painter, does not have full use of his arms. He still has a bullet lodged in his chest.
And Herisse’s family has been unable to find closure.
Marcelline Azor said she deserves answers from police, but has gotten none. No visits, no calls from law enforcement to explain why police shot more than 100 times at her son.
“Some days are good, some are worse. Some days my eyes turn bloodshot red. I can’t believe he’s no longer with me,” she said, speaking Creole.
“Not only did they shoot at a car that was stationary, but they shot four innocent young people who came here to enjoy themselves. How do you justify that?’’ Porter, the family lawyer, asked.
Questions of racial discrimination have often dogged Urban Beach Week, which attracts mostly young African Americans and has been met with a very large — and some say intimidating — police contingent. Over the decade-long history of the event, Miami Beach has weathered a number of violent crimes, shootings and street brawls. Civil libertarians contend that that the police department has been overly aggressive in dealing with the crowd.
Porter said he does not see Herisse’s killing as a racial issue.
“Sure, race could be a factor,” he said. “But it shouldn’t happen to anybody — black, white, Haitian. The bullets did not have a gender or a race stamped on them.’’
After Miami Beach completes its inquiry, the department will turn it over to the state attorney’s office, which ultimately decides whether to bring criminal charges. That could take another year, investigators have said.
Miami Herald staff writer Nadege Green contributed to this report.