2 teens shot by police say they didn’t know SUV was stolen

The two teens shot inside a Mercedes SUV by Miami-Dade police at a Burger King parking lot on Memorial Day said they had no idea the vehicle was stolen.

A bullet grazed the head of Keimari Dugue, 17. And Jasmine Sairras, 15, was shot in the wrist. Police suspect a serial car thief named Tyrese Johnson, 17, drove them to the hospital. Both shooting victims are expected to survive.

Johnson was arrested after he steered the Mercedes SUV police were searching for into two police patrol vehicles, escaped a swarm of bullets, then abandoned the vehicle about 22 blocks away and took off on foot, police said.

A law enforcement source familiar with Monday’s shooting said that not only were Keimari and Jasmine unaware the SUV was stolen, but Johnson admitted as much to police.

Still, the head of the police union said the officers had little choice but to try and save themselves from possible harm.

“The vehicle is a deadly weapon,” said John Rivera, president of Miami-Dade’s Police Benevolent Association. “They thought they were going to get hit and feared for their lives and defended themselves.”

Court records show that Johnson has been arrested at least four times in the past five months while in stolen cars.

In January, he was arrested in a stolen Honda Accord after cutting off a police officer coming out of a Liberty City fish restaurant. According to a police report, Johnson and another teen crashed the car before running away on foot. They were soon caught.

A month later, Miami Gardens police arrested Johnson after he was found behind the wheel of a stolen Audi that officers and federal agents had been chasing. He was charged with grand-theft auto and fleeing and eluding at high speed. According to an arrest report, Johnson nearly hit a Miami Gardens police sergeant’s car.

Detectives also suspected that Johnson and three other teens were involved in another armed robbery, according to a police report, although he was not charged in that case. By March, Johnson was again arrested in Miami Gardens, this time behind the wheel of a Lexus stolen in Pembroke Pines. Again, he was charged with grand-theft auto.

Each time, Johnson was charged as a juvenile, not as an adult. What punishment he received, if any, was unclear Tuesday because most juvenile court records are not public.

According to police, Monday’s wild getaway and shootout involved a tracking device, a stolen vehicle that ping-ponged into police cars and a hungry teenager.

Police said it was just before noon on Monday when a tracking device — they wouldn’t get any more specific — led them to the parking lot of a Burger King at 17951 NW 27th Ave. Officers in a patrol car quickly spotted the Mercedes SUV they were looking for and pulled up behind it.

That’s when, according to police, they spotted Johnson coming out of the Burger King. He jumped into the driver’s seat. But before he could take off, police said, two other officers also in a marked vehicle pulled up in front of the Mercedes and got out of their car.

At that point, police said, Johnson backed up the SUV and bumped into the patrol car behind him, then turned left sharply enough to get past the other cop car but still swiped its passenger-side door.

At the same time, officers on foot and in front of the Mercedes who said they thought the vehicle might hit them opened fire.

Yet the officers who placed their vehicle in front of the Mercedes left just enough room for Johnson to maneuver the SUV out of the spot and take off.

Police chased.

A short while later, police found the Mercedes abandoned 22 blocks away at Northwest Seventh Avenue and 177th Street. They learned that Johnson was driving and that three teens, including one minor, were in the SUV. They also learned that two people were struck by bullets, including the minor.

After abandoning the SUV, police said Johnson took off on foot. He would soon be captured. By 4:30 p.m. Monday, Johnson was under arrest and charged with using a deadly weapon in the attempted murder of a police officer. He is also facing vehicular grand theft charges.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting. Miami-Dade police officers, unlike those in Miami Beach and Miami, can shoot into a moving vehicle if they feel it’s a threat to them or innocent bystanders.

Monday’s shooting was the third police-involved shooting in Miami Gardens in four days. Last Thursday, Doll Pierre Louis was killed when Florida Highway Patrol trooper Misael Diaz shot through the front windshield of the Nissan Altima while clinging to its hood.

And early Sunday morning, a man carrying several weapons and a bulletproof vest was shot and arrested after exchanging gunfire with a Miami Gardens police officer.

Related stories from Miami Herald