Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: In Miami Beach shooting, he must have known how it would end

Raymond Herisse, in a spate of criminal recklessness, invited his own demise. His death was not an outrage.

Herisse was drunk, his blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. But surely he knew that his wild and menacing drive down Collins Avenue — fleeing arrest, knocking over a police officer, veering off the wrong side of the road onto the sidewalk and back, scattering cops and pedestrians, running over two police bicycles, bashing into cars, then ignoring police orders and refusing to assume a posture of surrender — would end badly.

Shortly before 4 a.m. on Memorial Day weekend 2011, it did, in what the old-time newspaper guys used to call “a hail of gunfire.” The medical examiner counted 16 “perforating, penetrating or grazing” bullet wounds in his body.

The Miami Beach shooting, with the racial intimations that come with Urban Beach Week, engendered a lot of angry speculation. But it was hardly a surprise that the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office finally decided this week that the 12 officers who opened fire on Herisse, hitting his 2006 blue Hyundai Sonata 87 times, were “legally justified.”

The video evidence and witness statements corroborated police reports of a driver who, as one witness told police, seemed intent on “hitting officers with no mercy.” Florida’s fleeing felon law and its famously permissive Stand Your Ground self-defense law made it inevitable that the state attorney would find that the police officers had no criminal culpability.

Besides, as my colleague David Ovalle pointed out, no Florida police officer has been charged for an on-duty fatal shooting since Miami Police Officer William Lozano killed two men on a speeding motorcycle in 1989 and was convicted of manslaughter. And even that case was later overturned on appeal. A jury acquitted Lozano at his second trial.

Under Florida law, Herisse‘s shooting was not a criminal act. That finding was no surprise.

If there was an outrage attached to this case, it wasn’t of the criminal kind. It had to do with the dangerous, mad frenzy of police gunfire. Police fired at least 124 shots, according to the report. Thirty-seven shots missed both the car and Herisse. Four innocent bystanders were wounded. (Telling us something, perhaps, given the erratic shooting displayed by trained police officers that morning, about the NRA’s theory that we’d all be safer if armed civilians could intervene in criminal situations.)

But prosecutors decided that Herisse was on such a dangerous course that police were faced with a “Hobson’s choice … in which case other citizens’ lives would be in peril due to his reckless driving, or using whatever force they deemed necessary.”

After the shooting, the Miami Beach Police Department changed its regulations, forbidding police from shooting at moving vehicles except in extreme circumstances. (Miami police have a similar policy. The Miami-Dade PD would be prudent to adopt the same rule.)

But “regardless of the wisdom of opening fire,” prosecutors came to “the inescapable legal conclusion” that no criminal charges would stick.

The real outrage here may be that it took nearly four years for the prosecutors to finish this report, leaving the community simmering in rumors and snippets of evidence. The long delay allowed the death of Raymond Herisse to be included in the mounting complaints blasting through social media about questionable police shootings around the country.

But Herisse made for a poor martyr. He was a petty criminal with 12 arrests on his rap sheet and a possible link to an armed robbery in Boynton Beach. (Though that seemed to be based on a tenuous identification.) He was at least a wanna-be gangster. The autopsy described tattoos of skulls, prison bars, assault rifles and the number “187,” a common gang tat based on the section of the California Criminal Code describing the “unlawful killing of a human.”

The state attorney’s report described three shooting incidents, one after another, that morning as he sped along Collins Avenue. The first volley happened after he knocked over a police officer who attempted the initial traffic stop, the second as he drove crazily away, banging into six cars and running over two bicycles after the cops leaped off their bikes to avoid his speeding Sonata.

But there was a full minute before the last, fatal shooting, as cops surrounded his car, which had finally come to a stop. Witnesses said they heard the police screaming, over and over, for him to get out of the car with his hands up — a full minute before the shooting started.

A full minute. He must have known this would end badly.