Prosecutors have cleared 23 officers who fatally shot a violent drug addict and his friend in a stolen car — a barrage of hundreds of police bullets that also wounded two fellow cops.
The decision comes more than three years after Adrian Montesano embarked on a crime spree that included robbing a pharmacy at gunpoint, shooting a cop in the stomach and leading the law on a high-speed car chase that ended when his stolen Volvo crashed at a Liberty City apartment complex.
Neither Montesano, nor passenger Corsini Valdes, were visibly armed in their final moments. But officers from Miami-Dade, Miami and Hialeah fired hundreds of rounds when the men immediately refused to get out of the car and were seen moving their hands up and down.
“Given the violence of Mr. Montesano’s actions and the flight from police, it was not unreasonable for officers to conclude that either or both of the men were failing to comply because they were attempting to retrieve a weapon from an area of the Volvo that was not in the officers’ view,” prosecutors concluded.
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The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s final report released Monday painted the picture of a chaotic scene in which officers may have been fooled by fellow police gunfire into believing they were being fired at by the two men inside the car. Also, other officers later admitted they were concerned about the possibility of friendly fire even before the shots rang out. No weapons were found in the car.
The decision to not charge comes against the backdrop of heightened scrutiny on law-enforcement use of deadly force nationwide and in Miami-Dade, where only one police officer has been arrested for an on-duty shooting in the past 28 years.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has not escaped criticism for the lack of criminal charges against police officers — and for years-long delays in finishing investigations into police shootings and in-custody deaths.
In Montesano’s case, as with many police shootings in Florida, state laws give officers wide authority to use deadly force — including authority to shoot a “fleeing felon,” even if there is no visible weapon. The report concluded that the officers “were authorized by law to utilize deadly force” against the two men.
Nevertheless, Montesano’s family does not believe his death was justified.
“The car had already stopped. There was nobody shooting from the car,” said his father, Dr. Jesus Montesano, a longtime Hialeah internist and real-estate developer. “It took them four years to come out with this crap that they’re not going to charge anyone?
“I know what he did was wrong, but it was no reason for him to be killed.”
The bizarre chain of events started early on Dec. 10, 2013. According to police, the 27-year-old Montesano shot at a trailer home where he used to buy drugs, apparently upset that his supplier had moved.
Later, around 4:40 a.m., he tried robbing a Walgreens in Little Havana. A security-camera image from the store shows Montesano holding a woman at gunpoint, his left forearm around her neck and his right hand holding a handgun to her head.
He “got into a gun battle” with a security guard, the final report said, before driving his pickup truck back to the trailer park.
At the trailer park, Miami-Dade Officer Saul Rodriguez had just arrived to investigate reports of shots fired. As the officer patted him down, Montesano shot him in the stomach, took the officer’s gun and wallet and stole his patrol car.
Rodriguez survived, but was left “incapacitated and bleeding at the scene,” the report noted. Montesano then drove the cop car to his grandmother’s home in Hialeah, ditched the cop car and the gun, and stole her Volvo and left.
She reported it to a police officer who was her neighbor. Alerts were issued. A manhunt ensued. Somewhere along the line, Montesano picked up Valdes, a friend who also had a history of drug problems. Soon, officers found the Volvo and gave chase. At that point, Montesano had also ditched his gun, investigators believe.
During the car chase, officers somehow reported to each other that “someone from inside the Volvo shot at them.” That was wrong. “There was never any firearm, ballistics, or physical evidence recovered to support this claim,” prosecutors Jose Arrojo and Frank Ledee wrote in their final report.
The chase ended when the Volvo crashed into a metal fence at an apartment building in the 2600 block of Northwest 65th Street, wedging between a tree and a pole.
Dozens of officers surrounded the car on three sides, some shouting commands for the men “to put up their hands” or “get down or get out of the car.” The dramatic scene was captured by TV news helicopters.
When the men refused, raising their hands and lowering them, police fired a first volley. That seemed to have sparked a second volley — with more officers apparently mistaking the impact of the bullets on the bodies as dangerous movements.
Miami-Dade Officer David Williams, who never fired his weapon, was shot in what was called a “deep graze injury.”
Another officer, Jimmy Harrell, saw Montesano moving his hands up and down. “He’s gotta be trying to see how he’s gonna attack and get out his car with the gun shooting,” Harrell recalled.
After the two volleys of gunshots, Harrell realized he was grazed in the forearm and forehead. He too never fired his weapon.
Only one of the shooting officers gave a statement to prosecutors. Officer Yenell Albelo claimed he saw Montesano reach down toward the floorboard as if he were “reaching for a weapon.”
When he heard gunshots, he saw the car’s windshield shattering. It was actually police bullets, but he believed it was Montesano firing from inside the car through the glass.