Former Miami-Dade School Board member, 81, bewilders community after bizarre Sunday

What led former Miami-Dade County School Board member Solomon Stinson to be involved in a shooting altercation with police on Sunday in Pembroke Pines? Friends and colleagues are baffled. This photo is from his 2006 campaign during a rally stop at Sunkist Grove Community Center in North Miami.
What led former Miami-Dade County School Board member Solomon Stinson to be involved in a shooting altercation with police on Sunday in Pembroke Pines? Friends and colleagues are baffled. This photo is from his 2006 campaign during a rally stop at Sunkist Grove Community Center in North Miami. AP

On Sunday, revered former Miami-Dade School Board member Solomon Stinson, 81, created a trail of chaos and confusion after threatening one person with his gun, firing into the car of another, then leading police on a wild chase that included an exchange of gunfire with officers and a car crash, police said.

Remarkably, no one was struck by gunfire, and Stinson was taken into custody after steering his car into dense brush off of Sheridan Street west of Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines, before getting out in an attempt to evade police.

By Monday, after Stinson was involuntarily hospitalized by police, longtime friends, family members and law enforcement remained stunned at what steered the beloved yet controversial academic, who mentored so many of today’s black leaders, into such a violent rage.

Ava Gilley, who worked as Stinson’s assistant at the school district for 27 years, couldn’t make sense of what happened to her former boss. She visited at his home just three weeks ago.

“He was perfect, nothing out of the ordinary,” said Gilley, the church secretary and business manager at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Miami, where she said Stinson was a top tither. “I was so worried. This was not him. He was always so rational.

“I’m really in disbelief,” she said.

Stinson’s lawyer, H.T. Smith, told the Miami Herald that he went to the Pembroke Pines Police Department late Sunday and was denied access to his client. Smith said when he went to Memorial Hospital West on Monday morning, hospital workers told him Stinson wasn’t there.

Smith said he confirmed that Stinson was at the hospital later in the afternoon but still hadn’t seen him by 5 p.m.

Miramar Police said Stinson started honking the horn of his Cadillac in front of a home in the Monarch Lakes community around 4 p.m. Sunday. Police said a woman, who was unloading a car along with her husband, approached the Cadillac “at which point the driver lowered the passenger side window and pointed the gun at the woman without uttering a word.”

The woman’s husband called police, and the driver then took off. Police issued a “be on the lookout” alert for the vehicle. About 10 minutes later, a call came into Pembroke Pines police saying shots had been fired in the parking lot of Pembroke Lakes Mall near the AMC movie theater.

Stinson, police say, argued with one of two drivers who had been properly parked in spots and then opened fire on an unidentified man’s car. An unidentified female driver drove north on Flamingo Road, and soon realized Stinson was following her, police said. Additional shots were fired near the intersection of Northwest Fourth Street and Flamingo Road.

At the intersection of Flamingo Road and Sheridan Street, police say Stinson fired at responding officers and they returned fire. Stinson drove west on Sheridan Street until he lost control and drove up an embankment near the 13800 block of Sheridan Street.

His car caught fire, police said, and traffic was halted in the area. Police said they were able to take Stinson into custody around 5 p.m. with the “use of a less lethal weapon.” The actual nature of the weapon used has not been stated by police. The Pembroke Pines police report has not been released. Stinson was charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault with a firearm.

On Monday, Miramar police said they were able to link the Cadillac to the earlier incident in their city. Through a photo lineup, police said, the female victim from Monarch Lakes identified Stinson as the man who pointed a gun at her. In addition to the Pembroke Pines charges, Stinson has been charged with aggravated assault over the Miramar incident.

People who live near Stinson on South Biscayne River Drive south of the Golden Glades Interchange described him as the polite resident who would check up on his neighbors. A man who claimed he was a family member of Stinson did not permit a reporter to knock on Stinson’s door.

Ron Oliver, 29, said he saw Stinson last week at his grandmother’s house, which is across the street from Stinson’s home.

“He speaks to all these neighbors, he’s a good guy,” Oliver said. “I didn’t even think he would shoot a gun. He’s a really easy person.”

Alan Mairena said Stinson would use a pellet gun to shoot at iguanas who were a nuisance in neighbors’ backyards.

“When we moved here, he invited us on his boat,” said Mairena, 37. “He’s always been nice. He was always watching for other neighbors.”

Two years ago the Miami-Dade County School Board nearly renamed its downtown headquarters after Stinson, the former chairman. He is a highly respected figure in the black community, revered as much as a mentor as a behind-the-scenes power broker.

After a decades-long career in the school system led him to the position of deputy superintendent, Stinson successfully ran for School Board in 1996. He retired from the board in 2010.

“Never saw him once lose his temper,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “He could articulate his position without being disrespectful. He was a calm individual.”

Current School Board member Steve Gallon said Stinson was a father figure to him. The two spoke almost daily, Gallon said.

“With respect to the alleged incidents that have been reported in the media, this is not the Dr. Solomon Stinson that I and the community have respected and known publicly for decades,” Gallon wrote in a statement. “A son, in the midst of a crisis such as this, wouldn’t share some of the most private conversations he has with his father. So, in this matter, neither could I.”

Anti-gun violence activist Tangela Sears said she saw Stinson several weeks ago at Jazz in the Gardens in Miami Gardens and said he seemed well. Sears said Stinson was very close with her parents while she was growing up and it wasn’t unusual for him to visit the family home on the weekend and spend time with her folks.

Over the years, Sears said, she stayed close to Stinson, who would call her every time he saw her on television.

“I don’t care if it’s 1 o’clock in the morning, he’s going to call me and say keep up the good work,” Sears said.

The two even faced off early in Sears’ career when she would often speak before the school board. She called him one of the most brilliant minds in Miami-Dade School Board history and surmised that something must have snapped mentally for Stinson to have shot at others or the police.

“This is completely out of context,” she said. “Something must have snapped. It has to be some kind of mental illness or dementia.”

Stinson’s career wasn’t without blemishes. At times, Stinson was accused of exercising too much influence over former Superintendent Roger Cuevas, according to a 2010 Miami Herald article. He was also criticized for alleged instances of nepotism and cronyism.

Four of Stinson’s siblings followed him to the district; his sister, Essie Pace, was a region superintendent. Pace’s son, John Pace, is now a region superintendent. He did not return requests for comment.

Current School Board member Marta Perez, no fan of Stinson, called his alleged behavior “demoralizing to the students and the community who elected him.”

When a committee was convened to consider naming school buildings, Perez chose former School Board member Manty Sabetes Morse as her representative to vote against renaming the School Board Administration Building after Stinson, taking the position that buildings should not be named after living people.

“Being in the system for 50 years, he helped a lot of people,” said Morse, but, “had we done this, this would’ve been an embarrassment for the school system.”