Acknowledging that her office takes too long to finish investigations, Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor said she plans to offer speedier public updates of every police-involved shooting, via her office’s website.
State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle’s plan to try and speed up the investigations was announced Wednesday as her office officially closed the probe into the death of Lawrence McCoy, a carjacker who was shot and killed by Miami Beach police more than eight years ago on the MacArthur Causeway.
The long delay in closing the McCoy case is but the latest of numerous high-profile police shootings that have dragged on for years, leaving relatives of the dead, civil lawsuits and the officers themselves in limbo. In every police shooting and in-custody death, prosecutors must decide whether officers broke the law.
“Historically police-involved shooting investigations have taken my prosecutors far too long to resolve,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in a statement. “In our effort to make every police-involved shooting and designated in custody death investigation totally complete, absolutely transparent and in line with existing Florida law the important consideration of timeliness has suffered.”
Unlike in other Florida counties, Miami prosecutors produce exhaustive reports detailing every shooting. Under office policy, they say they want to finish their legal analysis within 90 days after the evidence and reports are collected.
Every week, a committee of senior prosecutors meets to review evidence and drafts of memos, sometimes ordering rewrites or additional investigative work before issuing a recommendation on whether a shooting should be ruled justified, or charges should be filed.
But final reports are rarely finished within 90 days.
Complaints go back to 2010, when Miami’s then-police chief Miguel Exposito criticized Fernández Rundle about the inordinate amount of time it takes to close shootings.
The Miami Herald reported in 2011 that there were 63 unresolved police shootings. At the time, Fernández Rundle defended her office’s work, saying overburdened prosecutors were doing their best. “The worst thing we can do is rush to judgment, rush to a decision on a case without having all the information,” she told the Miami Herald at the time.
But a backlog of police-shooting and in-custody death cases has nevertheless persisted. In another high profile case, it took prosecutors more than four years to close the probe into the hot shower death of Dade Correctional Institute inmate Darren Rainey.
In June, the Miami New Times reported that there were 59 pending officer-involved shootings, including the McCoy killing. As of this week, according to the State Attorney’s Office, there are 48 open police-shooting cases.
Fernández Rundle this week announced her office will start posting status updates on its website, starting six months after an in-custody or police-shooting death. The updates won’t include details of the investigation, but will outline what documents are still needed from police; the page will be updated every three months.
Every three months, the senior committee will automatically summon individual prosecutors assigned to each shooting cases, to gauge progress of the investigations.
“Good intentions and hard work alone are not enough to bring knowledge and closure to the families of the deceased and to the members of our community,” Fernández Rundle said in her statement. “It is my commitment to continue to improve our communications and transparency.”