Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: We’re still waiting for answers in deaths that look like cover-ups

We’re still waiting. We’re still waiting for the release of investigations into the deaths of — you can fill in the blank: Darren Rainey? Raymond Herisse? Joeell Johnson?

The delays have stretched into years with no official findings into two fatal police shootings and the death of a mentally ill inmate in a state lockup. Until dithering begins to look suspiciously like a strategy. Like a dodge. Like a cover-up.

The death of Darren Rainey, 732 days ago at Dade Correctional Institution, might well have faded in official oblivion had not my colleague Julie Brown reported the ghastly treatment endured by the mentally disturbed inmate. Other inmates say guards had locked Rainey inside a shower closet and subjected him to a two-hour torrent of 180-degree water, until his burnt skin was sagging off his body.

Two years later, witnesses who claimed Rainey had been tortured to death have not been interviewed by police. Autopsy results have not been released. Key evidence has not been preserved. Public records about suspicious deaths or mistreatment of mentally ill inmates in state lock-ups have been withheld or redacted into meaningless blobs of black ink.

Raymond Herisse died 1,121 days ago, in the early morning darkness on Memorial Day, 2011 in Miami Beach. Police fired several shots, forcing him to stop the car he had been driving recklessly. Video taken by bystanders show that after the car halted, it was surrounded by a dozen police officers. One fired at the driver, setting off a frenzied fusillade — 116 shots were fired by officers. Herisse's body was riddled with 16 bullet wounds. Misdirected police bullets wounded four innocent bystanders. Three days later, police found a pistol, wrapped in a towel, under the driver's seat, but a gunshot residue test indicated Herisse had not fired the weapon.

Three years later, the official investigation has yet to be completed. Maybe by the end of this summer, the Miami-Dade state attorney's office told the Herald’s David Ovalle. But the delay and the excuse of a “pending investigation” has allowed the Miami Beach police to fend off records requests by lawyers representing the wounded bystanders.

Joeell Lee Johnson, 16, was killed 1,413 days ago, shot by an undercover Miami police officer posing as a Chinese food deliveryman. But, as Ovalle reported last week, state prosecutors have not yet determined whether the shooting was justified.

What’s extraordinary about this particular dawdling was that the Johnson shooting had been among the cases cited in a scathing 2013 report by the U.S. Justice Department that found Miami police had “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings.”

The report, based on 33 Miami police shootings between 2008 and 2011, also found the department engaged in “significant delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations.” And “has allowed multiple investigations to remain unfinished for three years or longer.”

Yet what the Justice Department called “egregiously long delays” have only continued hereabouts. Maybe it’s a strategy. Maybe they’re hoping we’ll forget.