Prosecutors have dropped murder charges against a Brooklyn teen whom police initially accused of killing a man in Miami Beach on Memorial Day weekend — a shooting that sparked a city campaign to cut back late-night drinking on Ocean Drive.
But after Jeffrey Alexander, a 19-year-old rap artist, spent five months in jail, investigators said they couldn’t prove Alexander did the shooting that was set off by an argument over a parking space and ended with two people dead.
“After further investigating the case, we determined that the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the shooter,” prosecutors said in a close-out memo. Instead, they said it appeared another man with Alexander fired the gun. That man was shot dead by police minutes later.
The case was quietly dismissed in mid-October, just weeks before the election in which voters rejected a referendum — a result of the shootings — to move up last call in Ocean Drive bars.
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The incident began on May 30 at the intersection of Second Street and Ocean Drive. Alexander was in a white BMW with three other men, investigators said. The driver of the BMW was attempting to parallel park in a spot that was too small and kept hitting a gold Buick in the adjacent space.
Ladarian Tyrell Phillips and his friend Edward Ellis, who owned the Buick, were across the street. Police say Ellis and Phillips confronted the driver of the BMW. The argument escalated, the BMW driver yelled “step the f--- back,” and someone fired a gun, shooting both Phillips and Ellis, according to the arrest affidavit. Phillips, 30, of Homestead, was killed; Ellis survived.
According to Ellis, “the front passenger in the car (Alexander) started shooting at them,” the close-out memo said. “However, physical evidence and statements of other witnesses contradict what the surviving victim states.”
The BMW fled, leading police on a chase that ended in a crash that damaged two police cars. Two Miami Beach police officers opened fire, killing the driver of the BMW, whom police have never publicly identified. That case is being investigated separately by Miami-Dade police. The State Attorney’s Office now says the driver was apparently the shooter.
Alexander was charged with second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and second-degree attempted murder with a deadly weapon/firearm. Five months later, the charges were dismissed.
“Long story short — my client was not the gunman,” Alexander’s attorney, Christopher Pagan, said Friday. “The charges were dropped due to eyewitness testimony corroborated by forensic evidence.”
According to the State Attorney’s Office, gunshot residue was taken from the passengers and the driver of the BMW.
“The only one who had gunshot residue on his hands was the driver who was killed in the police shooting. Casings found on the scene are not positioned to be consistent with [Alexander] firing from inside the car,” the memo said.
Based on the State’s investigation, the driver of the vehicle, killed in the police shooting, was the shooter.
Close-out memo by the State Attorney’s Office
An independent witness told police that he saw the driver — not Alexander — shooting.
That police report “was not provided to the state until months after the filing of the information in this case,” the memo said, adding that one of the men in the BMW “gave a statement to us indicating that the driver of the vehicle, and not [Alexander], was the shooter.”
In the memo, officials said that as a result of the conflict between the initial witness statement and the subsequent witness statements and physical evidence, “we have determined that the state cannot in good faith go forward as this case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt against Jeffrey Alexander.”
“Based on the State’s investigation, the driver of the vehicle, killed in the police shooting, was the shooter,” the memo said.
That weekend, Alexander — who goes by the stage name 22GZ — was slated to perform rap music at a Miami Beach club called Miami LIVE off Northeast 71st Street. It’s unclear if Alexander ever got to perform.
After his release, Alexander released a single called “First day out.” In the music video, Alexander is wearing an orange jail jumpsuit. Shots from the Miami Beach crime scene flash throughout the song as police sirens blast in the background.
The city was shaken by the deaths. Two days after the killings, Mayor Philip Levine revived old proposals to ban alcohol sales after 2 a.m., while others proposed different limitations. A week later, over the objections of some Ocean Drive merchants, the City Commission voted unanimously to put a referendum on the ballot asking voters if the city should adopt an ordinance ending alcohol sales in outdoor venues at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m.
On Nov. 7, after an intensely fought campaign, voters rejected the measure by a margin of almost two to one.