Bullet-free: How a new deadly force policy may have affected cop-dragging case

HIT-RUN INVESTIGATION: Miami Beach police arrested a suspect Sunday after a bicycle officer was thrown to the pavement during a traffic stop after a car took off.
HIT-RUN INVESTIGATION: Miami Beach police arrested a suspect Sunday after a bicycle officer was thrown to the pavement during a traffic stop after a car took off. The Miami Herald

Four years ago when a driver sideswiped a Miami Beach cop on a bicycle on a busy holiday weekend, the driver was shot and killed, four innocent bystanders were wounded and the city was placed under a national microscope for its heavy-handed response.

Saturday night, during another busy holiday weekend in South Beach, a man driving a Mercedes-Benz disobeyed a bicycle cop’s order and raced away, dragging him several hundred feet. This time, though, police didn’t fire their weapons, the officer was the only person injured and the suspect was quickly apprehended and charged with attempted murder.

The difference may very well have been a policy put in place last year by Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates, which no longer permits cops to fire at moving vehicles unless someone inside fires first or displays a weapon.

ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon, often a critic of harsh police tactics, said policy change can lead to saved lives.

“Unlike the hail of bullets that ended Urban Beach Weekend a few years ago, under the revised Miami Beach policies, a suspect was captured rather than killed, and innocent bystanders were not caught — or injured — in police gunfire,” he said.

The change in the city’s deadly force policy came more than three years after the 2011 Memorial Day shooting death of Raymond Herrise, who was struck 16 times and whose blue Hyundai was riddled with more than 100 bullets. Caught in the crossfire were four people standing on the sidelines watching the scene unfold. Police and prosecutors said before he was killed on Collins Avenue, Herrise ignored a bicycle cop’s order to pull over and knocked him down with the vehicle, drove the car over sidewalks and repeatedly spun his wheels, endangering bystanders.

Last month, after an almost four-year probe, Miami-Dade County prosecutors decided against charging any of the 12 officers from Miami Beach and Hialeah who fired their weapons at Herrise. They determined that officers acted properly under Florida’s “fleeing felon” law, as they were trying to protect Herrise from injuring anyone.

Long before the state attorney’s determination in the Herrise case, Oates overhauled the department’s shooting policy to essentially mirror one that has been in place in Miami for more than a decade. Beach cops can no longer fire at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against an officer or another person by means other than the vehicle.

Former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms said it was likely officers didn’t shoot because they were concerned with striking Miami Beach bike-patrol officer Eduard Alba. Harms supports the restricted deadly use policy for moving vehicles, saying, “I would agree, don’t shoot at a fleeing car unless your life or others is in serious jeopardy.” Harms also questioned why a bike patrol officer would stick his arm inside a moving vehicle.

The Saturday incident involving Alba was eerily similar to the Herrise situation. According to police, Alba and his squad observed a gray Mercedes and a black BMW speeding south on Collins Avenue at Ninth Street at 10:40 Saturday night. They followed for two blocks until the cars came to a stop on Seventh Street. There, three officers fell behind the BMW, which was trailing the Mercedes, and Alba approached the Mercedes.

When Alba asked Meshach Samuels, 18, for his driver’s license, the arrest affidavit says he responded by saying, “I don’t have one.”

When Alba told him to pull over, Samuels drove up on the sidewalk as the officer reached into the vehicle to grab his arm. Then, somehow as Meshach sped west on Seventh Street, Alba was dragged for about 300 feet “before being thrown to the street and rendered unconscious.” Meshach then took off, according to the report. Alba was treated for road burn and a concussion and released from the hospital on Sunday.

Later on Sunday, police found Samuels of Brooklyn, New York, at a La Quinta Innon Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. He was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, fleeing and eluding a police officer and leaving the scene of a crash with serious bodily injury. Oates said it was likely that Alba’s bike helmet saved his life.

Samuels remained in jail on Monday after a judge refused to set bail for the attempted murder charge.

Despite the presence of at least four other police officers as Alba was being dragged away, “there was no shooting involved,” said Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez.

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