A gunman behind the wheel of an SUV shot an unsuspecting Miami Gardens police officer filling out an accident report next to his patrol car Friday morning, leading to a brief but wild rush hour chase that left cop cars pockmarked with bullet holes and a truck smashed and disabled at an intersection.
The officer, veteran David Starling, 52, was shot in the upper leg as he tried to take cover inside his patrol car. Wounded, he called in the make of the shooter’s vehicle and the direction it was headed, then gave chase.
The shooter, identified as David Andres Mejia, 24, was captured a few minutes later, but not before leaning out the window of the black BMW sport utility vehicle he was driving and firing at least eight times at a civilian and the officers chasing him, police said. When the BMW crashed into a white truck at the busy intersection of Northwest 183rd Street and 32nd Avenue, he took off running.
Police caught up to him in a nearby backyard and took him into custody. No Miami Gardens police officer fired his weapon, Police Chief Antonio Brooklen said. Inside the shooter’s abandoned vehicle, police found a weapon and shell casings.
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Before charging Mejia, police contacted federal authorities and scoured databases for any possible links to a string of unprovoked attacks on police officers across the country this month. Starling was transported to Aventura Hospital and Medical Center with a non-life threatening injury.
“The violence against police officers in this country must stop. The violence against children must stop. The violence against our community must stop,” said Brooklen. “No one is exempt from violence.”
Police union President John Rivera called the attack “an ambush” and “a total breakdown of civilization.”
Brooklen was alluding to a pair of shootings earlier this month in which police officers who hadn’t pulled their weapons were shot. The first incident was on Jan. 7 in Philadelphia, where Officer Jesse Hartnett was struck three times during a 13-bullet barrage as he sat in his patrol car.
The officer returned fire, striking 30-year-old Edward Archer in the rear end. Hartnett was shot three times in the arm; his injuries were not life threatening. Police said Archer had confessed to doing it in the name of the Islamic State.
A day later, on Jan. 8, a nine-year veteran Boston police officer who was part of a group that had cordoned off a suspected drug dealer was shot in the leg before he had a chance to grab his gun. His condition, too, was non-life threatening. Police charged Grant Headly, 27, with the crime.
“I reached out to some of our federal departments because the situation is so strange. And given what happened in Philadelphia and what’s happening across the country, I want to make sure it’s not anything more than what it is now,” Brooklen said.
Starling spent 10 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office through 1999. It wasn’t clear Friday where he worked until 2007, when he joined Miami Gardens police.
Mejia spent the day being interviewed by detectives, then was charged with five counts of attempting to murder a police officer, using a firearm during the commission of a felony, aggravated fleeing and eluding, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
His criminal background is lengthy and stretches across several policing agencies and county lines, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show. He was first arrested in Aventura on burglary charges in 2006, then again for the same crime a year later by Miami-Dade County police. Both charges were dropped. Also in 2007, Mejia was charged with threatening a public servant and larceny.
In 2009 the Broward Sheriff’s Office charged him with burglary in separate incidents and possessing a stolen firearm. In 2010 Boca Raton police charged Mejia with possessing and intending to sell marijuana, cocaine, opium and ecstacy. That case was later dropped.
The same year he was arrested again by the BSO on a probation violation. Also in 2010, Biscayne Park police busted him for being a fugitive from Broward County. Records also show he was arrested in 2013 for marijuana possession in Miami Beach and was arrested again by the BSO for probation violation.
According to police, Friday’s mayhem began at 8:28 a.m., as Starling sat in his patrol car in the parking lot of a business at the corner of Northwest 183rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Starling told police he had just made eye contact with Mejia in the BMW when the gunman leaned out of the window and fired.
As Mejia took off west on 183rd Street, Starling relayed information and then, despite being shot, joined in the pursuit. With marked and unmarked police vehicles chasing the BMW, the driver leaned out again at 20th and 27th avenues, firing his weapon and forcing commuters to scramble toward the side of the road, police said.
Still on 183rd Street, but now 15 blocks west at the intersection of 32nd Avenue, the BMW smashed into a white pickup, spinning and disabling it. The BMW, with its smashed front end, came to a halt on the roadway several hundred feet west.
Mejia then jumped out of the vehicle — leaving a gun behind in the SUV — and ran south toward some homes, police said. Officers chased him on foot and in vehicles, capturing him in a backyard. No other officers or civilians were injured.
Brooklen, sounding relieved that Starling’s life had been spared, took a sharper tone when discussing the shooter.
“He’s someone who decided to ambush a police officer,” said the chief. “Every police officer who takes this job knows the risk. You have an understanding you might not come home at the end of the day. He ambushed someone who is employed to protect our citizens.”
Herald writer Alex Harris and staff writer Lance Dixon contributed to this report.