The images are stunningly clear, the sort rarely ever captured on video: A gunman pops out of a parked BMW, surprising Miami-Dade narcotics detectives investigating a marijuana growhouse.
The home’s audio-equipped surveillance video — played for the first time during a Miami-Dade court hearing Thursday — is a graphic and powerful piece of evidence depicting a police action quickly turned into a deadly gunfight.
Gunfire erupts. Puffs of smoke cloud the air. Detective John Saavedra falls off screen, wounded with three bullets to the gut.
Suspected marijuana trafficker Gerardo Delgado, wounded but still popping off rounds, takes cover behind a tree in the circular driveway of the house in Coral Way. Detective Jorge Milan, on the street hidden from view, squeezes off a round.
Through the tree branches, a final bullet strikes Delgado in the head. As his gun flies out of his hand, he crumples to the ground, mortally wounded, writhing in pain, moaning loudly.
When the gunfire stops, the silence is cut by the hollering of Delgado’s cohort, Luis Estevanell, 60, now in police custody.
And detectives realize Saavedra is wounded: “John’s hit! John’s hit!” they yell.
In court Thursday, at an extended bail hearing for Estevanell, prosecutors played the video of the scene that unfolded in front of the West Miami-Dade home where investigators would later find 80 pounds of marijuana inside.
Detectives say Estevanell was a key operator in the business. He is charged with possession of cocaine, trafficking in marijuana and second-degree felony murder.
In Florida, anyone who commits a felony in which a death occurs — in this case, Delgado’s demise — can be held responsible for murder.
Police say violence associated with growhouses has increased as the illicit business had expanded in South Florida, and that includes confrontations with law enforcement.
In February, Miami-Dade narcotics detectives got into a vicious gunfight with two men they say were running a growhouse in West Kendall. One of the men died in a blaze sparked during the firefight, and another man escaped but hanged himself from a tree not long after.
Two years ago, four armed robbers — suspected on ripping off marijuana growhouses — were shot and killed in a firefight with police in the Redland. In 2008, a Miami-Dade detective was shot in the face with birdshot by a man guarding a marijuana grow house in Homestead.
As for Estevanell, his defense attorneys are asking Circuit Judge Monica Gordo to grant him bail while he awaits trial. The hearing continues Friday, with testimony expected from several of the detectives involved in the shooting.
The firefight unfolded July 31, 2012 at a home near Coral Way and Southwest 60th Court.
Detectives, acting on a tip, had placed the house under surveillance a few weeks before. Detectives went there for a “knock and talk” to see if they could get consent to search the property, Miami-Dade homicide Detective James Hatzis testified Thursday.
While not in patrol uniforms, the detectives wore vests printed with the word “police,” and had badges and police radios, Hatzis said.
Defense attorney Edward Carhart, in his questioning, suggested that Estevanell and Delgado did not realize the men were actual police, or that they believed they were being attacked by criminals impersonating law enforcement — a common tactic by home-invasion robbers.
But Hatzis said that Estevanell later admitted to police “that he knew there were police, they were saying the word ‘police’ verbally.’ ”
Here’s what the video captured:
Delgado is seen emerging from the house, smoking a cigarette. He pauses in front, then casually walks over to a BMW with dark tinted windows parked in the driveway. He gets in. Three second later, an unmarked Miami-Dade police car, which had been parked across the street, reverses and stops in front of the house.
Saavedra appears on the sidewalk from around the corner and strides up to the front door.
At that moment, Estevanell — wearing a similar shirt as Delgado — emerges from the home, points his hand to the sky, then lunges toward the street, drawing detectives away from the BMW.
Delgado pops out of the BMW, gun in hand and starts firing at the officers. Saavedra, a few feet away, returns fire, stumbling away off screen. He has taken three shots to the stomach.
Milan backs up toward the street off camera.
Delgado, clearly wounded and hopping in pain, clings to the tree, but continues firing his weapon toward the officers.
A few seconds pass. Delgado turns his head toward Saavedra. Then, back toward Milan. A final shot through the tree branch fells him. His pistol pops in the air and falls to the ground.
As Delgado lies groaning, his white-collared shirt soaked red, another detective leads Estevanell to the street to be handcuffed. Paramedics arrive and rush Saavedra to the hospital.
Delgado, on the ground next to the tree, writhes and moves over and over on the video. He dies at the scene.
A department spokesman said Saavedra is still recovering from his wounds and has not returned to duty.
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