Policy: Law

DOJ: Miami police are shooting too many people

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Department of Justice investigators concluded Tuesday, that Miami Police Department officers have “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution,” noting that the problem is exacerbated by inadequate oversight at the local level.

“Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department today released its letter of findings determining that the city of Miami Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution,” the DOJ announced.  “Between 2008 and 2011, officers intentionally shot at individuals on 33 separate occasions, three of which MPD itself found unjustified.  The department found that a number of MPD practices, including deficient tactics, improper actions by specialized units, as well as egregious delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations, contributed to the pattern or practice of excessive force.”

DOJ began the investigation in 2011, after local law enforcement killed “seven young African-American men during an eight-month period,” which prompted complaints from city residents. DOJ had previously investigated the police department for officer-involved shootings in 2002, but did not find a “pattern or practice of excessive force” at the time.

“Although MPD appeared to correct course after our first investigation, many of the systemic problems that we previously identified returned to root deeply in MPD’s practices,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, who works in the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.   “Our findings should serve as a catalyst to help MPD and the city of Miami restore the community’s confidence in fair, effective and accountable law enforcement.”

DOJ also found that Miami police commanders did not investigate several of the shootings as efficiently as necessary. “As further evidence of the importance of timely investigations, we also observed that a combination of seven officers participated in over a third of the 33 officer-involved shootings we reviewed,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote in the letter.  “All seven officers — four of whom were members of specialized units — intentionally  discharged their weapons at individuals on multiple occasions over the course of four years. One  officer discharged his weapon in four separate incidents during a three-year period, resulting in three deaths, and two of the four discharges are still under investigation. Another officer fatally shot two suspects in separate incidents within a two-week period, and both of those  investigations are still pending after more than two years.”

One of the shootings, a Miami police officer “killed an unarmed motorist and wounded an unarmed passenger in 2011.” The police department concluded on its own that this shooting was unjustified and fired the officer, who had previously been involved in a 2008 shooting that was not properly investigated.

“Had MPD fully investigated the 2008 shooting, perhaps retraining or other corrective action may have been taken which could have influenced whether the 2011 shooting had to occur,” Perez suggested in the letter.

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