A Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge is considering whether to levy legal sanctions against Miami Beach for failing to comply with a court order to turn over evidence in connection with the fatal police shooting of a motorist during Urban Beach weekend two years ago.
The investigation, which Miami Beach Police recently completed and turned over to the state attorney’s office, has been dogged by controversy from the outset.
One dozen police officers – eight from Miami Beach and four from Hialeah – fired more than 116 shots at the motorist during a busy street festival, killing the motorist and seriously wounding four innocent bystanders.
Lawyers for the motorist and the bystanders have sued the city, contending Miami Beach has dragged the investigation on for two years to withhold, cover-up or destroy evidence to make the city less liable for its negligence and the criminal actions of the officers.
At a Wednesday hearing, Assistant City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner admitted the city has destroyed police dispatch communications recorded in the minutes and hours before the incident unfolded.
And Circuit Judge Victoria Sigler was clearly annoyed that Boksner didn’t seem to know what he had and had not given the plaintiff’s attorneys as required under her order.
“So you’re telling me you had them just dropped on your desk and sent them off?’’ Sigler asked. “You didn’t review the materials?’’
At issue is what could arguably be the most crucial piece of evidence in the case – the officer-to-officer chatter during the shootings of 22-year-old Raymond Herisse and the four tourists.
The recordings during May 30, 2011 may shed light on precisely what led police to use lethal force and whether it was justified. By law, lethal force can only be used to protect the lives of officers or others.
In this case, Miami Beach police initially indicated they believed that Herisse had a gun. But after the smoke cleared, no gun was found on his body. Three days later, police announced they had found a gun wrapped in a towel under the seat of his car. Tests later showed Herisse did not fire a weapon.
Police also said they felt he posed a threat to officers because they had to jump out of the way of his speeding vehicle, which they said rammed into parked vehicles, barricades and their bicycles.
But a video taken by a witness appears to show Herisse’s car was not traveling at a high speed before it lurched to a stop, was surrounded by officers and moments later, pumped with shots from their semi-automatic weapons.
In all, Herisse was shot 16 times, according to the autopsy report.
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.
In April, Sigler ordered Miami Beach to release to Herisse’s family and to the bystanders’ attorneys “all autopsy reports, autopsy results and any audio and/or visual recordings that took place shortly before, during or after the shooting, including 911 calls and dispatches ...’’
Six weeks later, the city has yet to turn over photographs of the body at the crime scene, 911 calls made prior to the shootings as well as any police officer communications.
Boksner initially claimed the police tapes didn’t exist, then said he provided everything he had – then said he didn’t believe he had to turn them over, and finally said he did turn them over.
The confusion in the court prompted Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez to bypass Boksner and send the tapes directly to Marwan Porter, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys.
Martinez told The Herald at the time that he was sending them to the attorneys himself because he was concerned about violating the judge’s order.
Porter, who represents Herisse’s mother, turned over the envelope purportedly containing the police tapes to Sigler on Wednesday.
She will compare what’s in the envelope to what Boksner sent to the attorneys. She said she plans to rule next week on whether the city should be sanctioned.