Before a gaggle of reporters, Miami's police chief and mayor on Monday afternoon held a press conference to tout the arrests of two men suspected of murdering a Northwestern High honors student and another young man, and urging the capture of a third suspect still loose on the streets.
Just hours later, in an embarrassing mea culpa, Chief Jorge Colina had to take it all back.
The department announced that it would seek to release the men only two days after jailing them as the prime suspects in a brazen daylight shooting that killed two people and wounded two others. Homicide detectives had secured a probable cause arrest warrant — reviewed by prosecutors and signed by a Miami-Dade judge — for Yaairness Rashad Bryant, 21 and Anthony Clinch, 19, based on the identification of an eyewitness.
But Clinch insisted he was shopping with his mother — and only after he was booked into jail did detectives discover supermarket surveillance video to back up his claim.
"It's the right thing to do," Miami Police Colina said Monday night.
The two were released Tuesday afternoon after spending two days in jail on murder charges, counts for which defendants are automatically kept behind bars with no bond.
Miami-Dade prosecutors are expected to ask a judge to quash the arrest warrants Tuesday morning in court. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The unusual development suggests authorities rushed to make an arrest in a high-profile killing that spurred the brass to increase police presence at Miami's biggest housing projects.
The dead were Northwestern High honors student Kimson Green, 17, and his friend and former student Ricky Dixon, who were gunned down as they hung out in front of a home at the Liberty Square housing projects on April 8. The daylight ambush seriously wounded two others.
In the wake of the Parkland high school shooting rampage, Northwestern High students took to the streets in protest — and residents joined along. Miami and Miami-Dade police soon flooded the neighborhoods with a command center, patrols and even cops on horseback.
Violent crime has dropped dramatically the past month, with not a single gunfire death. But the massive police presence has increased anxiety among residents worried about heavy handed police tactics. Still, Colina said he has no plans to decrease the enforcement in Liberty Square anytime soon.
Details of the murder investigation remain unclear. But sources say prosecutors expressed concerns about the weakness of the evidence during a meeting with top-ranking Miami police brass and the homicide detectives on Friday, the day before the arrests. Detectives persisted and prosecutors still reviewed the arrest warrant, which was signed by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lisa Walsh.
On Saturday night, SWAT and patrol units stormed an apartment in the complex and took Bryant and Clinch into custody. Clinch immediately told detectives he was shopping at a Hialeah-area Marshall's and the supermarket Fresco y Mas with his mother at the time of the killing, according to sources.
Still, on Monday at noon, Colina and Mayor Francis Suarez headed up a large contingent at police headquarters to announce the duo's arrest. They also said detectives were looking for a third suspect, Deondre McDuffy.
"This third person we are looking for, Deondre McDuffy, is considered dangerous and possibly armed," Colina told reporters, adding: "We would like to take him into custody without incident and be able to bring some closure, some sense of peace to everyone who has been affected by this tragedy. Not just the families but the friends and even the kids at Northwestern."
But in the ensuing hours, detectives located surveillance video from Fresco y Mas that showed Clinch, sources said. No video evidence cleared Bryant, who investigators still believe was involved; detectives are still looking to corroborate the eyewitness identification, sources said.
In a prepared statement, Colina said after police reviewed the video which supported Clinch's alibi, an immediate decision was made to release both men.
Colina also said an arrest warrant for McDuffy, which was also announced Monday morning, had been canceled.
"While the Miami Police Department is committed to the pursuit of justice, it is equally committed to the protection of the innocent," said Colina.