Miami-Dade County

Retired Miami cop says he was protecting himself when he opened fire at car in Tropical Park

Retired Miami police officer Michael Levy, 48, and his wife, Lila Bahamon, 38
Retired Miami police officer Michael Levy, 48, and his wife, Lila Bahamon, 38 Facebook

The retired Miami police officer who opened fire on a motorist at Tropical Park says he was forced to shoot only after the man — whom he said smelled of alcohol and falsely claimed to be a cop — repeatedly tried to run him over.

Michael Levy told the Miami Herald on Thursday that the motorist, Rudy Velasquez, yelled ethnic slurs at him and his wife just before looping around the lot in an attempt to run him over after the two exchanged words. At one point, he said the car got within feet of striking him.

No one has been arrested in the shooting that wounded Velasquez’s wife, Cecilia Gonzalez, 63, who was a passenger in the man’s Nissan SUV. She is in stable condition after suffering a gunshot to the arm.

“I was upset he wasn’t arrested,” Levy said Thursday. “He was the aggressor. We were minding our own business.”

The shooting unfolded at the popular West Miami-Dade park on the 7900 block of Bird Road just before 9 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Miami-Dade police detectives are still investigating in the encounter and not charges have been filed. Ultimately, they’ll present the evidence to prosecutors, who must decide if Levy was justified in shooting twice and wounding the woman.

Florida’s self-defense law gives citizens wide latitude to use force if they feel threatened. In 2005, lawmakers made a controversial decision to eliminate a citizen’s “duty to retreat” before using deadly force, a change that critics say has fostered a “shoot-first” mentality that can give criminals a pass on justice.

Velasquez, 52, could not be reached to give his version of events.

He is currently awaiting trial for a February arrest for felony battery. In that case, he is also accused of attacking a stranger in a parking lot in an eerily similar episode.

According to an arrest report, Velasquez approached a man sitting in his car, the driver’s side door open, outside the Rickenbacker Marina. Velasquez, in Spanish, began yelling at him “to get out of his country and called the victim a rat,” according to the arrest report.

When the man reached to shut his door, Velasquez grabbed his arm and twisted his finger, breaking the bone. His defense attorney declined comment on Thursday. Velasquez was born in Nicaragua, according to his arrest report.

Levy, a security expert and private investigator, retired from Miami police in 2008 after a decade on the force. Before that, he spent five years as a cop in New York City.

“I never once fired my weapon on duty,” Levy said. “I know when it’s necessary. This was the first time in my life I felt it was necessary.”

This is Levy’s account of what happened:

On Wednesday night, he was teaching his wife, Lina Bahamon, 38, to parallel park in an empty handicap portion of the sprawling lot. Bahamon, who has been in Miami just three years from Colombia, has her learner permit. Levy even put out a dozen orange cones to block off an area for her to maneuver their black Mercedes.

“We chose a spot completely empty, away from everyone so she could practice without any issues,” Levy said. “There was literally no cars near us.”

That’s when a Nissan SUV pulled up suddenly. The driver, Velasquez, barked out: “You can’t do what you’re doing here. You can’t park here,” Levy recalled.

“If you have a problem, call the police,” Levy replied.

“I am the police,” Levy said the man responded.

Levy, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon and kept his pistol in his waistband, got out of the car, approached the passenger side of the Nissan. He asked to see the man’s police ID.

“I smelled alcohol,” Levy said. “He pulls out a badge. I know it’s not a police badge. It looked old and rusted.”

When Levy told him the badge wasn’t real, the man tried to get at him by climbing over his wife through the passenger side. Levy said he tried twice calling 911 but the call would not go through. He also attempted to take a photo of the man’s license plate. All the while, Levy claims, Velasquez was hurling insults, calling his wife an “immigrant.”

“He was yelling at me, I bet you’re Mexican! I bet you’re illegal,” said Levy, who is of Puerto Rican and Israeli descent.

Suddenly, the SUV screeched away in reverse more than 100 feet, he said.

The SUV gunned its engine and “floored it” driving directly toward his wife in the Mercedes. Levy said he ran about 40 feet, trying to draw the Nissan away from his wife, and Velasquez veered toward him. The SUV got to within feet of him when Levy squeezed off one shot.

Levy said he began running zig-zag style around the parking lot as the SUV looped around and made another run at him. The vehicle got to around 15 feet when he squeezed one more round before taking cover behind a tree.

He said the Nissan looped around a third time, then stopped. Levy said he heard a woman screaming, although he was not sure why. Only later, after police and paramedics arrived, did Levy learn one of his bullets struck the passenger in the arm.

Levy was handcuffed and detained for hours, although he told Miami-Dade Kendall district detectives the same story. “He literally tried to kill me with his vehicle,” Levy said.