Miami-Dade County

Police sting in car theft ring ends in teen’s death

Jason Carulla’s brief but troubled history caught up with him Thursday when Coral Gables police officers shot and killed him during a botched sting in a dark flea market parking lot in northwest Miami-Dade.

Police said officers on the scene opened fire when the 17-year-old runaway — who was supposed to be under the protective care of the state’s Department of Children & Families — rammed the SUV he was driving into an unmarked Miami-Dade police car.

“He was a troubled kid, no question, but he didn’t deserve to die,” said Carulla’s father Janik Carulla, who wavered between angry and upset as he spoke Friday.

The shooting occured shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday in the parking lot of the busy flea market at Northwest 79th Street and 31st Avenue.

The SUV’s front and back windshields and the passenger window appeared to have bullet holes, and the bumper was damaged, according to Miami Herald news partner CBS 4.

The Coral Gables officers were members of the city’s newly-created Strategic Initiatives Team, an undercover task force investigating stolen vehicles. Miami-Dade officers were working with them trying to solve a string of vehicle thefts that have plagued the north end of Coral Gables and the surrounding neighborhoods. A tipster told them that Carulla would be picking up a stolen vehicle at the Flea Market USA parking lot on the eastern edge of Hialeah.

When police arrived, they spotted Carulla inside a stolen silver Toyota Sequoia SUV. Something spooked him and he tried to take off in the stolen SUV, said Alvaro Zabaleta, a Miami-Dade police detective. He hit an unmarked county police car, and continued to accelerate, police said.

“Then, two Gables cops pulled up and fired,” Zabaleta said.

County police did not fire their weapons, Zabaleta said. No officers were injured in the incident.

Coral Gables police referred all questions to Miami-Dade, who’s investigating the shooting. Zabaleta said the department won’t release the names of the officers involved in the incident until they give statements, probably some time next week.

Carulla was mostly living on the streets for the past seven months, his father said. He would have been under the protection of DCF had he not run away last November. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement website asks anyone with information about Carulla to contact Miami police or the FDLE.

Janik Carulla said his son was on his way to turning himself in to DCF in November, after arriving in on a flight from Jacksonville to Miami.

“But when he got off the plane and saw no one was there to meet him, he took off,” Janik Carulla said. “His goal was to stay away from problems until he was 18, because then his records would be gone. But obviously, he didn’t make it.”

The sequence of events involving DCF could not be confirmed Friday.

Janik Carulla said he last saw his son less than two weeks ago and that the youth had found a place to stay with a friend he met on the streets.

“I gave him all of my money and some food,” Janik Carulla said.

State records show Jason Carulla has been in and out of state custody since he was a young teen. Miami-Dade police have arrested him at least five times since he was 14, charging him with crimes ranging from grand theft and larceny to burlgary and possession of a firearm and marijuana.

His father, too, has had troubles. In 2002 Janik Carulla received 18 months probation after the state charged him with child neglect and abuse. He said he made an error in judgment when his son was only 5.

“I went to Taco Bell in the middle of the night, he [Jason Carulla] walked out of the house, and the cops found him,” said Janik Carulla.

Jason Carulla’s stepfather is Sweetwater motorcycle cop Humberto Herrera, who could not be reached Friday.

Jason Carulla also is the grandson of a Cuban-American artist who lives in Miami named Ramon Alberto Carulla, his father said. Ramon Alberto Carullo’s online biography says his work has been shown in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A Facebook profile appearing to belong to Jason Carulla shows interest in popular television shows such as The Office and Family Guy and features quotes from rapper Eminem. But his last public entry on Facebook appears to be in 2011.

Janik Carulla said his son was “imperfect, but was perfect for me and my family.” He recalled the last time his son was before a judge in 2013 on grand theft charges.

“I begged the judge to put him away,” said Janik Carulla. “I said, ‘If you scare him you’ll give him a chance. You’ll save his life.’ ”

El Nuevo Herald reporter Brenda Medina contributed to this story.