South Miami

Michael Gavins’ lawyer: Police cameras would have kept cop ‘in check’ before shooting

In 1995: Michael Gavins, then a defensive tackle for South Miami High School.
In 1995: Michael Gavins, then a defensive tackle for South Miami High School. Miami Herald File

Years after being lauded by his hometown for his prowess on the football field, a bloodied Michael Gavins collapsed at a Coral Gables gas station after being shot by South Miami police. Now, his lawyer says the outcome might have been different if the police officer had been wearing a body camera.

Gavins, who is six-foot-six, played football and basketball at South Miami High School in the 1990s before gaining a scholarship to the University of Missouri. He later transferred to Missouri State.

On Nov. 15, South Miami police Officer Aryo Rezaie shot Gavins after he pulled him over for speeding. According to the police report, Rezaie said he smelled “a strong odor” from inside Gavins’ car and saw “what appeared to be suspect cannabis in plain sight.”

Gavins, who recovered from a single gunshot to his back near his right armpit, initially was charged with intent to sell marijuana and resisting an officer. Those felony charges were dropped last week and Gavins pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. He and his lawyer, Paul Layne of the firm Silva & Silva are demanding to see gas station video evidence of the shooting.

Layne says that if Rezaie had been wearing a body camera, the outcome would have been different.

“I think it would have been a wonderful thing had we had the benefit of those cameras,” Layne said. “I think it’s necessary and would have affected it. I know I speak for Michael in two ways: No. 1, it would have, I think, made this officer behave in the proper way, respecting the citizen’s rights and conducting the business in the proper way. Rather than making a stop outside of the jurisdiction, not calling it in, approaching it in a Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon-type fashion for no reason. I think the camera would have kept him in check.

“No. 2, the camera would have prevented the police from basically trying to defame Michael by portraying him as some type of drug dealer who made some type of aggressive move against the officer. It would have exposed that as a complete and total fabrication.”

Layne said there were four independent witnesses at the gas station that night, including Coral Gables attorney John Schulte.

“The police, without having the benefit that society would get by cameras, are free to say things in such a way that covers them,” Layne said. “This guy’s mission … once he saw that he had screwed up and Michael had no weapons, that he wasn’t a threat and witnesses had seen him shoot him for no reason — he needed to scramble and come up with a good explanation and they went with what they went with and that’s what they wrote.”

Rezaie has been taken off the streets and indefinitely assigned to desk duty.

Police Chief Rene Landa declined to speak about the shooting until the investigation is completed.

Landa says body cameras — approved by South Miami commissioners on Jan. 5 and to be worn by police during work-related calls and job-related functions — are among the “biggest tools in law enforcement.”

“We did not have a citizen complaint problem and we did not have a control-of-persons problem,” Landa said. “We didn’t have the issue in that problem where I needed the cameras to lower the issue. The only problem is that … as we go on in law enforcement there will be issues and complaints. There may be a shooting that takes place that now people are saying, ‘Could technology have helped the officer?’ There are a lot of things that could happen. That’s what we look forward to. Moving forward and looking at all the technology that is out there and see if it fits our department.”

Landa says his officers will be equipped with 40 new Axon Body 2 cameras in May or June, after delivery and training. The cameras feature high-definition video, 12 hours of battery life and 130-degree lenses. Evidence.com will provide unlimited data storage. Taser International will provide the cameras to South Miami, as it does for the cities of Miami and Miami Beach.

“In the video process itself, let’s say an incident occurs and the filming takes place,” Landa said. “That will then be put aside and kept, downloaded, whatever we want to do for using that particular piece of evidence.”

After the case is cleared, the video would become public record, Landa said.

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