In the minutes before Raymond Herisse was killed in a torrent of police gunfire, Miami Beach police were bombarded with the constant crackle of gunfire and, for five nerve-racking minutes, some of them tried fruitlessly to figure out where the shots were coming from, who was firing upon whom and why shots were being fired at all.
Police dispatch audio files, obtained exclusively by The Miami Herald, reveal the tumultuous minutes before and after the 2011 Urban Beach shootings in which one person was killed and four bystanders seriously wounded in a hail of bullets — 116 of them fired by police — during the city’s annual Memorial Day weekend hip-hop-themed street festival.
The audio files reveal that Miami Beach police were confronting numerous crime scenes simultaneously that morning, including a SWAT team investigation at a hotel on Ocean Drive involving a suspected gunman, and at least two other shootings. It’s clear it was a chaotic few hours in which officers were hunting crime suspects in all corners of South Beach.
But the audio files are perhaps more interesting for what they don’t reveal: Why police felt compelled to fire a fusillade of bullets on a vehicle that had already stopped and a suspect they already had at gunpoint.
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“I think it verifies what we’ve seen on the video,’’ said Marwan Porter, who represents the family of Herisse. “We had the car and the subject stationary. There was nothing done by Raymond. You don’t hear anybody saying ‘he has a gun!’ or ‘he’s shooting! or anything that would ignite the firing squad that killed him.’’
Porter pointed out that the audio files do not reveal what caused officers’ initial contact with Herisse, and that given all the trouble that morning, it’s possible police may have confused Herisse with another suspect they were seeking.
Other problems on the tapes: Witnesses give conflicting accounts and descriptions of suspects running from the various crime scenes. It isn’t clear whether any of them were related to the primary scene at 13th and Collins Avenue.
Police officers on the street report a “fleeing vehicle” traveling “at a high rate of speed” — but none of them are heard describing the color, make or model of the vehicle. It’s not clear how the dispatcher learns that the vehicle was a silver Hyundai.
Officers repeatedly and breathlessly tell dispatchers “shots fired! shots fired!” but none of them say that the driver in the car — or anyone else — is firing the shots. It’s not clear whether some of the officers along Collins Avenue watching the car pass by are, in fact, firing their weapons.
Herisse, who was driving the Hyundai erratically southbound on Collins Avenue, finally comes to a stop at 13th and Collins, according to an officer on the scene. The audio files indicate that Herisse is in the vehicle and at “gunpoint.’’ It’s not clear why police surround his car and fire repeatedly.
No officer reports seeing anyone else inside or fleeing Herisse’s car. And yet, for several hours after the shooting, officers, including SWAT team members, continue to search for other suspects, though it is not clear why. One purported suspect, described repeatedly and simply as “a black man wearing a purple shirt,” leads to a manhunt and the detaining of multiple black men in purple shirts.
The Miami Beach Police Department has declined to comment on this case.
The two-year investigation, which has been dogged by controversy, is now in the hands of the Miami-Dade state attorney, who will decide whether the 12 officers who fired their semi-automatic weapons into Herisse’s vehicle committed criminal negligence by shooting in an area filled with streams of tourists.
Four people, two men and two women, were caught in the gunfire. They continue to suffer long-term injuries from their wounds and have received no financial assistance for their medical bills from the city. The police department, which conducted the probe, has refused to give details of the investigation, including whether the bystanders were shot by officers or someone else.
Gunshot residue tests have shown that Herisse did not fire a weapon that day. A gun was found under a seat in his car by police three days later.
Miami Beach’s Fraternal Order of Police has said the shooting was justified because Herisse, who was drunk, posed a lethal danger to the officers and others. Veteran law enforcement officers have said that Miami Beach police acted appropriately, given the nightmare they were confronting that morning: an out-of-control vehicle moving toward a crowd of people as gunfire was erupting from an unknown source.
The audio files show that Miami Beach police and other officers from assisting agencies were first alerted to the incident when a Hialeah police officer reported a “fleeing vehicle” driving at a high rate of speed southbound on Collins Avenue at “660 Street,’’ which the dispatcher quickly figured out is 16th Street.
Officer 1: “Hialeah 200 priority there’s a vehicle fleeing southbound on Collins at 660 Street.”
Officer 2: “I believe he struck one of the officers.’’
Dispatcher: “Vehicle description?”
Dispatcher: “Attention units: silver Hyundai heading southbound from 16th Street and Collins.”
Officer 3: “Shots fired! Shots fired! Vehicle fleeing at high rate of speed Espanola and Collins Avenue!”
Officer 4: “14th ,14th and ...Collins shots fired!”
Officer 5: “Shots fired shots fired! Doesn’t know why shots fired!’’
As the vehicle continues south, and officers report its location, the barrage of gunfire in the background sounds like the finale of a fireworks display.
Officer 6: “13th and Collins, car stopped.’’
Officer 7: “Where’s the subject? Where’s the subject?”
Officer 6: In the vehicle...at gunpoint...”
And suddenly another blast.
Dispatcher: “Multiple shots, multiple shots, 1400 block of Collins.”
Officer 8: “We’re going to need fire rescue on a 3...’’
After that, paramedics and police officers scramble to one gunshot victim after another: man shot in the chest, woman shot in the arm, man shot in the hip, another woman shot in the arm. Streets are cleared, additional fire rescue units are called. Perimeters are cordoned off, SWAT is brought in, streets are blocked and witnesses are questioned.
Two of the officers involved in the shooting are transported to the hospital because the gunfire affected their hearing. No mention is made of the Hialeah officer who reported that he was struck by Herisse.
At the time of the shooting, police said Herisse ignored orders to pull over, struck a Hialeah officer and nearly struck several other officers as he sped down Collins slamming into barricades and cars. Video shot by a witness and posted on YouTube shows the car lurching down Collins amid gunfire and coming to a stop. A contingent of police officers surround the vehicle with their guns drawn and about a minute later open fire.
Herisse, 22, of Boynton Beach, was shot 16 times. Eight Miami Beach and four Hialeah officers were involved. Lawyers for the victims say the officers used excessive force. Three of them, as well as Herisse’s family, have filed suit against the city.
“It’s chilling,’’ Porter said. “But I still don’t think we have the whole story of what happened.’’