Russell Keith Anthony McGruder added to a lengthy criminal résumé Monday when he was accused of stealing a police car, taking it for a ride and crashing inside the PortMiami tunnel with cops in pursuit.
The officer assigned to the car was on a special detail in downtown Miami to protect a visiting member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet when the drama unfolded.
Chased by another patrol car north on busy Biscayne Boulevard during the morning rush hour, McGruder turned east into the PortMiami tunnel before crashing into another patrol car and an 18-wheeler inside the tunnel, running, then spraying officers with what they believe was either some type of pepper spray or mace.
McGruder, who has been arrested more than 11 times the past five years, was cut and bruised. The officers and the truck driver were not injured. And the public remained safe — but frustrated — as Miami-Dade police shut down the port tunnel in both directions.
“He took out a can and used some kind of chemical spray,” Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said. “There was an altercation. He was taken into custody. The officers are OK.”
Interstate 395 and several connecting roads were gridlocked for several hours past 8:30 a.m. as drivers headed downtown and to Miami Beach to begin the workweek. The stolen cop car was on a special detail provided to Juliàn Castro, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Castro was getting ready to give his keynote speech at the Miami Beach Convention Center for the eMerge Americas conference.
McGruder, 34, who was in police custody but hadn’t been charged by Monday afternoon, has a lengthy rap sheet, mostly for petty crimes including possession of marijuana. Other charges are more serious. In October 2011 he was charged with aggravated battery, but the case was dropped.
Another case for burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, also in 2011, was also dropped. As was a charge in February 2013 of renting space for prostitution. In 2013, he was found guilty of marijuana possession. McGruder also pleaded guilty to larceny and petty theft in February.
Curiously, stealing a marked police vehicle has now become a trend in Miami-Dade. Monday’s heist was the third in the past three weeks — the other two police cars were taken from rookie Miami cops doing paperwork.
On April 14, rookie Miami Officer Rosny Obas was filling out an incident report at a cab company on Northwest 79th Street when he spotted someone suspected of damaging vehicles the night before, and chased him. A few minutes later, Obas was in a gun battle with Frantzy Armand, whose assault rifle had Obas at a disadvantage.
As Obas hit the ground trying to protect himself, boat maintenance worker William Ramirez steered his van between the two men, dragged Obas inside through a side door, and fled to safety. Armand, 28, was arrested a few hours later, but not before two unsuspecting drivers who were in his path were shot.
Armand was finally arrested and charged with attempted murder after he lost a gun battle with an off-duty North Miami police officer who spotted him on Sans Souci Boulevard just east of Biscayne Boulevard.
A week later, another rookie Miami cop was filling out a report at Jackson Memorial Hospital when Larry Nystrom, 51, jumped into the officer’s patrol car and took off. Nystrom simply went for a ride, then returned the vehicle to its proper place a short time later as a stunned Miami officer asked him where he’d been and what he was doing.
“I had fun on a joyride,” Nystrom told the officer. “I even turned on the lights and sirens.”
Monday’s incident began shortly after 8:30 a.m. as McGruder spotted the vehicle ready to go, and jumped inside. Police, citing national security, refused to reveal from where the patrol car was stolen, or where Castro, the HUD secretary, was staying.
Police were standing outside their patrol vehicles waiting for Castro to emerge from his hotel when McGruder struck. The HUD secretary was unharmed.
Zabaleta said as McGruder took off north on Biscayne Boulevard, another officer began the pursuit.
Police chased McGruder into the PortMiami tunnel, where at some point the car he stole crashed with another patrol car. An 18-wheel truck carrying unknown cargo was also involved in the crash.
Zabaleta said the patrol vehicles had major damage, but no one was seriously hurt, and when McGruder took off running, officers continued to chase, also on foot.
As police neared, Zabaleta said McGruder pulled out some type of can, and sprayed it at the officers. He was taken into custody.
Miami-Dade police policy states that keys should be removed and the ignition turned off when an officer isn’t within the immediate vicinity of the vehicle. Officers are urged to be careful and stay nearby if they leave a car running.