A day after a Miami-Dade officer shot a man who sped from a traffic stop, then fled again on foot, the only potential weapon police have found near the confrontation in an Opa-locka apartment complex was a screwdriver. Several residents also insisted that Antonio Devon Laines posed no threat when officer Christopher Ellison shot him in the stomach.
"I saw everything. The man was trying to surrender and the police officer shot that man," Greg Bennett, an 18-year-old attending William H. Turner Technical Arts High School, told the Miami Herald on Thursday. "Then the officer pointed the gun at me and said 'Get your ass back in the house.' It was just wrong. There was no reason to shoot."
While police released only limited information about events that led to the shooting, Andrew Axelrad, general counsel for the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, which represents Ellison, defended the officer's actions.
Axelrad said the officer heard a description of Laines over his radio that said he was armed and dangerous. The attorney said Ellison fired his weapon and struck Laines in the stomach as the two ran toward each other after having entered a courtyard at Glorieta Gardens Apartments — but from opposite directions.
"There was a BOLO [be on the lookout] for somebody matching the description," said Axelrad. "It indicated the person who fled had a firearm. Obviously, that officer believed he had a gun."
On Thursday, police released a short narrative explaining how specialized Robbery Intervention Detail detectives first spotted a white Cadillac at an Opa-locka intersection and tried to pull the vehicle over for some type of unexplained traffic infraction. Police would not say where they tried to pull the vehicle over, what the traffic violation was, or who was in the car. When it sped off, police said they did not follow.
Instead, together with Opa-locka police, they canvassed the neighborhood until they spotted the Cadillac parked in the back of Glorieta Apartments. Police said they set up a surveillance team and when three men appeared and went to the back of the car to remove the license plate, they surrounded them. Laines, 29, was shot. He remained at Jackson Memorial Hospital and hadn't been charged with a crime.
"The officers approached and after a brief encounter with three individuals, subject #1 [Laines] was shot by one of the officers. The other two subjects ran from the scene and were apprehended a short time later," Miami-Dade police wrote in a narrative.
Those men included Christopher Wilcox, 30, who was charged with possessing two grams of marijuana and with resisting arrest without violence. The other man had not been named by Thursday afternoon.
The shooting happened after a brief chase. Ellison, 37 and an eight-year veteran, turned a corner behind an apartment and spotted Laines turning the far corner at the same time and racing towards him. Ellison fired and struck Laines, who crumpled to the ground. Police haven't publicly said where they found the screwdriver.
A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said the tool was found near Laines in a grassy courtyard about 1,200 feet from the Cadillac. The officer, the source said, fired his weapon only after seeing Laines reach for something in his waistband.
The chase and the shooting, which happened around 1:30 p.m., were captured on surveillance video that has not been released to the public.
Bennett, the Turner Tech student, said he was visiting his godparents on the second floor balcony directly across from Laines, when he was shot. He said Laines was running through a grassy enclave between the apartments and dove to the ground as Ellison approached with his weapon drawn from another direction.
Others, too, took issue with the shooting in the large, gray, three-story set of buildings at 13010 Alexandria Dr. in Opa-locka.
On a Facebook Live video taken by a man named Danny West from a second-floor apartment with a perfect sight line to where Laines was lying on the ground, the injured man can be heard saying, "you shot me for nothing" as he's surrounded by five officers. Laines can be seen writhing in pain and yelling for medical attention.
"You're not gonna die. You're not gonna die," says an officer kneeling on the ground and tending to Laines.
At one point, Laines yells toward West, giving his name and asking him to call a family member and an ambulance. Paramedics arrive eight minutes into the video. Fifteen minutes into the video, he's taken off the property on an orange stretcher. Another man who claimed to witness the confrontation and only gave his name as "Rome Rome," said, "I was right there. He didn't have no gun. I'll be the first person on the stand."
State records show Laines has a criminal history dating back more than a decade. In 2007, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show, Plantation police charged him with carrying a concealed weapon. He pleaded no contest. Over the years he's been charged with marijuana possession, loitering and prowling and driving with a suspended license by various South Florida law enforcement agencies. In 2011 Hialeah police robbery with a deadly weapon and burglary. Laines pleaded guilty.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating any possible wrongdoing by the police officer. Miami-Dade police are looking into what led to the gunfire.