The death of his sister makes no sense to Alfonso Wright. All he knows about it is from a cellphone video he’s seen. And the video shows a Florida Highway Patrol officer firing into his sister’s white BMW from the passenger side as the car moves slowly on a roadway near the entrance to the Golden Glades Park & Ride.
The officer, identified by FHP as Ronald Melendez-Bonilla, appears to fire twice. In the video, a muzzle flashes once before he stumbles as he’s walking backwards and Latasha Walton is refusing to stop the car. And it appears to flash again just before the trooper falls to the ground after tripping over a median and a dip in the roadway.
The bullets were fatal blows and ended the life of Walton, 32, a mother of two. Beside her in the car when she was killed Tuesday night was her boyfriend of three years, Wright said. He said he spoke with his sister’s boyfriend earlier Wednesday and that he’s traumatized.
“I’m trying to stay strong for my nephew and my daughter. I saw it, but I don’t understand it, man,” said Wright, who said his sister lives in Pompano Beach and was visiting friends for dinner in the Miami area with her boyfriend when she was shot. “She didn’t try to hit him. What’s he shooting at? I don’t understand why he fired the weapon. I need to speak with Colin Kaepernick or someone.”
Kaepernick is the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, who has become outspoken on civil rights issues, particularly regarding law enforcement’s treatment of black men.
Walton’s version of events differs from FHP’s.
FHP Spokesman Alejandro Camacho said Melendez-Bonilla showed up near the Park & Ride at 7:30 p.m., to help another trooper with a vehicle that was “driving erratically.” Camacho said the trooper parked his vehicle in front of Walton’s to block it, got out and drew his firearm.
When Walton drove toward the trooper, Camacho said, he “fired multiple shots” into her vehicle. It was not clear from the video if Walton’s car struck Melendez-Bonilla. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing on the officer’s part in the shooting.
The cellphone video, taken by a bystander and obtained by law enforcement, was released early Wednesday morning. The shooting happened near the entrance to the Park & Ride at Northwest Seventh Avenue and 160th Street. A law enforcement source familiar with the shooting said Walton hit two FHP vehicles before she was shot by the trooper. That can’t be seen on the video.
Camacho said Walton had been stopped for a traffic violation, but by late Wednesday FHP had not offered what type of violation occurred.
Bill Smith, president of the Florida Chapter of the FHP, said though two officers appear in the video, only one fired a weapon.
“Obviously something was going on with that driver that wasn’t legal. That’s why she wouldn’t stop,” said Smith. The trooper “felt his life was in danger from the vehicle.”
FHP policy states that a trooper is not permitted to use deadly force on a fleeing felon, including into a moving vehicle, unless there is “an imminent threat” to the trooper or to another person.
It’s clear on the video that the trooper who fell was the one who fired. Smith said only one trooper fired a weapon. The video also shows at least two troopers’ black patrol cars parked on the scene.
After the FDLE completes its investigation, prosecutors will determine whether the shooting was justified.