Three teenagers were shot in a truck. Another teen was shot after a brief chase and an alleged carjacking. A fifth man took a bullet when he disobeyed orders and refused to pull his hand from his pocket.
Over 48 hours this past weekend, three South Florida police officers — two from Miami-Dade and one from South Miami —fired bullets that struck five victims. Police said in each case the officer feared for his life.
The five victims lived, with bullet wounds in arms and shoulders and upper torsos. All were arrested and charged with crimes ranging from resisting arrest without violence to grand theft, to aggravated assault on a police officer.
In only one instance was a weapon found.
“Our officers are trained to deal when confronted with a threat,” said Miami-Dade police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta.
Police-involved shootings in South Florida don’t happen often, but they do occur and sometimes in bunches. About a decade ago Miami’s police department was hailed for going almost two years without an officer firing a weapon. That string was shattered in 2011 and 2012 when Miami officers shot seven black men over a seven-month period, leading to a federal investigation over civil rights.
For Miami-Dade police, the four shootings this weekend raised the number of people shot by the department since August to eight. Four of the eight shooting victims were in their vehicles when shot by Miami-Dade police. The agency’s policy on firing into vehicles is more lenient than several other police agencies in the county, such as Miami Beach and Miami.
Those departments permit an officer to fire into a vehicle only if police see a weapon or the public is in imminent danger. Miami-Dade police simply have to be in fear for their lives. A vehicle can be considered a weapon.
That seemed to be the case Friday night during the weekend’s first incident. According to police, that’s when a Miami-Dade officer spotted a group of teenagers who had allegedly ripped off a case of Heineken at the Speedway Gas Station, taking off in a police truck that had been reported stolen last week.
It was just past 9:30 p.m. when the officer took off after the Chevrolet Colorado truck heading south on Southwest 112th Avenue. After sideswiping a Nissan, the driver lost control and crashed at the corner of Southwest 108th Avenue and 256th Street. As a detective approached the truck, police said, the driver accelerated the vehicle toward the cop, who responded with gunfire.
“The detectives stopped their vehicles and began to exit when the defendant accelerated his vehicle toward Detective E. Bell. In self defense Detective Bell discharged his firearm at the defendant, striking him in the left arm,” the officer wrote in his report. Police said the man who was shot acknowledged he was driving a stolen vehicle.
Miami-Dade police Detective Daniel Ferrin said an officer “can use up to lethal force” if the officer feels his or her life is in danger. In this case, he said, the stolen truck was being used as a weapon.
Five teenagers were in the stolen truck. The driver was identified as Jorbel Cruz, 19. He was charged with grand theft, eluding an officer and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Cruz’s father Jorge Cruz said he has not been able to see his son since the incident. He called the shooting an “extreme” response and said one of the teens in the truck told him his son never sped up in the direction of the officer.
“I'm not saying these kids are saints. They deserve to pay for what they did. But why do you have to try to kill them?’’ asked Jorge Cruz.
Also shot in the truck was Joel Cabrera, 19, who was in the back seat. Another juvenile male who police haven’t named was shot while seated in the front passenger seat. Cabrera was charged with petit theft. Two teenaged juvenile girls who were in the backseat — who were not named and were not harmed — were charged with trespassing and petit theft.
There is no mention of a weapon being found at the scene in any of the arrest affidavits.
Then, on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., Miami-Dade police were alerted to the carjacking of a four-door white Mazda on Northwest 79th Street. Within four hours, two robbery victims claimed they spotted the same vehicle. By 5 p.m. a Miami-Dade detective searching the neighborhood spotted the car and gave chase.
The car crashed, police said, and the teenage suspect fled on foot. When the detective neared him, the suspect aimed his weapon and the officer fired, striking him, Zabaleta said. Police retrieved a weapon at the scene but haven’t said if it had been fired. The Florida Highway Patrol will investigate the four shootings by Miami-Dade police.
The last of the five shootings happened early Sunday night. That’s when a South Miami cop spotted a car with a temporary tag and tinted windows. Police said he pulled the vehicle over at Shell Gas Station in Coral Gables and shot the man in the shoulder after he failed to obey an order and take his hand out of a pocket.
Michael Gavin, 36, was charged with possession of marijuana and resisting arrest without violence. No weapon was found. Miami-Dade police will investigate the shooting.
Someone familiar with the South Miami incident said Gavin was shot in the shoulder area before he was handcuffed or taken to the ground. The officer who shot Gavin is a veteran who was riding with a rookie in training. Marijuana was found in Gavin’s vehicle, police said. They charged him with intent to sell.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.