Miami Beach

Miami Beach cop who fired fatal shots has a clean file, won prestigious award

Miami Beach police survey the scene where alleged bank robber David Winesett was shot and killed by police near Alton Road and 16th street in Miami Beach.
Miami Beach police survey the scene where alleged bank robber David Winesett was shot and killed by police near Alton Road and 16th street in Miami Beach. For the Miami Herald

The Miami Beach police officer who fired two lethal rounds from an assault rifle into a would-be bank robber — captured by a bystander on video — has a clean Internal Affairs file and received a prestigious award when he was a Pinecrest police officer.

Little else is known about officer Fabio Cabrera. Miami Beach police have refused to comment on the shooting, which took place during the busy Art Basel weekend, and the city said replying to requests for the officer’s personnel files will take a few days.

Miami-Dade police, who are investigating the incident, also have declined to comment.

Cabrera, hired by Miami Beach in February 2010, previously served as a Pinecrest police officer. Records show he received the village's prestigious Life-Saving Award from Mayor Cindy Lerner in 2009. Calls to Pinecrest on Thursday weren’t returned, and there was no mention of what Cabrera had done to receive the award.

He also won the same award on Miami Beach earlier this year for climbing a fence to cut the rope a man had tied around his neck and a tree in a suicide attempt, saving the man’s life.

Clear video camera footage of the Saturday morning incident taken by a bystander shows Cabrera standing about 20 feet in front of a shirtless Dave Winesett, suspected of having tried to rob a bank minutes before. The officer’s finger is on the trigger of his AR-15, which is pointed directly at the suspect.

The firing of that weapon has come into question. Department policy states officers “shall keep their fingers outside the trigger guard unless deadly force is justified.” The reason, law enforcement experts say: Any sudden noise or gunshot could cause an officer to react by pulling the trigger, a phenomenon known as “sympathetic gunfire.”

And police experts have said that is likely what caused Cabrera to fire at Winesett, who was flailing away agitatedly on the video, his left hand on a parked car and his right hand waiving a straight razor he had stolen from a barbershop.

Cabrera’s lethal blasts came less than a second after Miami Beach police Sgt. Philip Elmore fired his Taser into Winesett's chest. Elmore fired the weapon, intended to stun and incapacitate a suspect, from behind a vehicle off to Winesett’s left side. The video appears to show Winesett frozen and falling backward after he's struck by the electronic prongs from the Taser just before Cabrera fires.

Elmore, who was promoted to sergeant in March, joined Miami Beach in August 2006. His Internal Affairs file shows he has had 15 complaints filed against him in the past nine years. He has been disciplined five times. The other 10 complaints were cleared or withdrawn.

Elmore also was one of the officers who fired his weapon into a Hyundai operated by Raymond Herisse on Memorial Day Weekend 2011. Officers from Miami Beach and Hialeah fired 116 bullets into Herisse's car that day, killing him and wounding four innocent bystanders. Elmore was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting.

Elmore's Internal Affairs file lists complaints and reprimands, but does not give any details about the incidents.

According to the file, Elmore's first reprimand was in February 2009, when he was given a two-day suspension for use of force and conduct unbecoming a police officer. Then in July of that same year, he was given a letter of reprimand for failing to notify dispatch, document an incident properly and notify his supervisor of an incident.

A year later, in August 2009, Elmore received another letter of reprimand, again for use of force and conduct unbecoming a police officer. Twice he had “verbal conferences” for tardiness to court.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Miami Beach officers, noted that Elmore was recently nominated for Crisis Intervention Officer of the Year for talking down someone from jumping from the ninth floor of an apartment building. He has received more than a dozen letters of commendation for exceptional work, and in 2008 he received the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Crisis Intervention Team Service of the Year Award.

FOP President Bobby Jenkins said he feels “confident that our officers acted in the most responsible, effective and professional way possible given the situation,” and that the union stands firmly behind their actions.

Miami Beach police declined to comment about the officers or their actions. Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said the department is investigating a threat directed at the officers that was phoned in to Miami-Dade police Saturday after the shooting.

Cabrera and Elmore were given three days of paid leave and are now on administrative duty until Oates determines if or when they should return to patrol.

Winesett, 51, was killed Saturday morning after sneaking away from the Little Havana halfway house where he was serving three years’ probation for bank robbery. He had previously served a 12  1/2-year prison sentence.

Winesett took a bus to South Beach, where police say he entered a Bank of America and handed a note to a teller saying he had a bomb and wanted cash. But he walked out empty-handed, and walked a block to the RazzleDazzle Barbershop, where he ripped off his shirt, threw items around, and grabbed a straight-edged razor.

Workers at the barbershop fled to the back and hid. No one was injured. Police confronted Winesett outside the shop, where he was shot and killed.

Jenkins said the FOP fully expects a “fair and just assessment” by Miami-Dade police.

Winesett had a lengthy criminal past. In 1986 he was charged with writing bad checks and marijuana possession in Georgia. In 1997 he was charged with robbing a SunTrust Bank in Daytona Beach. After his arrest he allegedly told police he had robbed another bank in Fort Lauderdale four days earlier.

Then in 2002 he robbed a Bank of America and was sentenced to just over 12 years in prison and three years of probation.