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Miami civilian panel to decide on police shooting of unarmed man

The city of Miami’s civilian oversight agency will decide on Tuesday whether to exonerate the Miami police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man, DeCarlos Moore, in 2010.

The agency’s independent counsel has determined that Officer Joseph Marin’s use of deadly force was reasonable and did not violate city policy.

But community activists believe the Civilian Investigative Panel’s investigation is flawed, and say members of the public have been deliberately blocked from voicing their concerns. They plan to challenge the investigation’s findings on Tuesday.

“The CIP has failed to take a real and serious look at the DeCarlos Moore shooting,” said Nathaniel Wilcox, executive director of People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, the community group known as PULSE. “Instead of protecting the community, they’ve been more concerned about protecting the police department.”

Marin has already been cleared of wrongdoing by state prosecutors. He was one of seven Miami police officers who fatally shot black men in 2010 and 2011. Five of the men, including Moore, were unarmed.

In 2011, a coalition of community groups including PULSE, the ACLU and the NAACP called on the Civilian Investigative Panel to conduct an independent review of each case. The CIP’s complaints subcommittee took up the Moore shooting earlier this month. The full panel will hear the case on Tuesday.

Jeanne Baker, who chairs the Miami ACLU police practices committee, said the coalition tried to distribute its own report on the Moore shooting to the 13-member civilian panel in advance of Tuesday’s meeting. The coalition also asked for the opportunity to address the panel before the vote.

But both requests were denied by CIP Chairman Thomas Cobitz.

“The ACLU is essentially being stonewalled,” Baker said.

Cobitz said the agenda was too long to include the additional documents, and that Baker and other members of the coalition will be able to speak during the public comment part of the meeting, which comes after the vote.

“We do listen to the coalition,” Cobitz said, noting that members have spoken on the issue at prior CIP hearings. “We know their concerns. But our job is to look at the facts and evaluate things using a procedure. We can’t just change our procedure because our friends want us to.”

Marin was a rookie officer when he shot and killed Moore. On the night of July 5, Marin and his field-trainings officer, Vionna Brown-Williams, pulled up behind Moore’s white Honda Accord on Northwest First Place in Overtown and ran the license plate through a national database. The computer said the vehicle might be stolen.

Before the officers could conduct a traffic stop, Moore, 36, pulled over and got out of his car, according to the CIP investigation. The officers got out of their patrol car and ordered Moore to put his hands up.

“Suddenly, and without explication, [Moore] turned away from Officer Marin and began hurriedly walking or running toward the drivers’ door of the Honda,” the CIP report concluded. “Mr. Moore reached into the drivers’ door as if to retrieve something… As Mr. Moore emerged, Officer Marin saw a shiny, metallic object in Mr. Moore’s hand.”

Marin fired a single bullet to the head, killing Moore.

Investigators later determined that the metallic object was a clump of rock cocaine wrapped in aluminum foil. Further complicating matters, the computer system had made a mistake: Moore’s car was not stolen.

In 2011, Miami-Dade state prosecutors concluded that Marin was justified in using lethal force.

“After a thorough review of all the facts, evidence and witness statements and studiously examining existing Florida statutes, it is our conclusion that the shooting death of DeCarlos Moore did not involve any criminal violation of Florida law,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at the time.

But family members and community activists were dissatisfied with the findings, and called on the CIP to conduct an independent investigation.

Baker, of the ACLU, said she was disappointed with the CIP investigation because it did not address whether Marin had followed proper procedure in the events leading up to the shooting. She said the analysis also fails to address whether Marin had adhered to the department’s use-of-force policy.

“There is no indication in the recommendation that the CIP complaints committee has looked at the policy and procedure violations that we believe need investigation,” she said.

Cobitz said he did not doubt that Marin followed protocol.

“Was it reasonable for a police officer to want to question someone driving a vehicle that appeared to be stolen? Absolutely,” he said.