MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – After four years of waiting to learn if the officers who killed 22-year-old Raymond Herisse would face criminal charges, a Haitian family was upset but not surprised. And despite a report portraying him as dangerous, they were not giving up on justice, the family attorney said Wednesday.
Since police killed Herisse, his sister Charline Herisse has followed cases nationwide of police officers being accused of using excessive force, while killing young unarmed black men. Some of those cases have turned into wrongful-death lawsuits. And while others remain under investigation, almost all of them have resulted in no criminal charges.
The family had been waiting for years to get the results of the investigation, so that they could move forward with their wrongful death lawsuit against the Miami Beach and Hialeah police departments. Miami Beach took two years to complete their investigation due to the "complicated" crime scene. Sgt. Howard Bennett said that the ballistics test alone -- which involved 12 firearms -- took nine months.
"To have to wait all of those years is ridiculous," the family's attorney Marwan E. Porter said.
After a meeting with Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to discuss her decision not to file charges because police "were justified in the use of the deadly force," Porter said it was clear that there were "inconsistencies in the report that raised serious red flags."
The prosecutor's final report confirmed many of the suspicions Herisse's mother, Marcellina Azor, had about her son's behavior May 30, 2011 -- including that he had not fired a gun during the chase, as some had assumed. Herisse's mom was convinced that he had not shot at police officers, because "that was not in his character. He wouldn't do that," Porter said.
HAUNTING POLICE SHOOTINGS
Marcellina Azor is not the only mom suffering after police killed her son in Miami-Dade County. Catherine Daniels called Miami Gardens police Feb. 15 asking for help with her schizophrenic son Lavall Hall.
Instead of helping, they killed him. Police said the 25-year-old -- who like Herisse had a criminal record -- attacked them with a broomstick. She protested at City Hall and has a lawsuit pending.
Herisse's relatives have been curious about recent controversial police killings of unarmed black men around the country.
Dec. 2, 2014: There is Rumain Brisbon, 34, who was killed when an officer mistook a bottle of pills for a gun. The case is pending.
Nov. 22, 2014: Tamir Rice, 12, was killed while holding a BB gun at a park. There is a pending lawsuit against police.
Nov. 20, 2014: Akai Gurley, 28, was killed while going down the stars in a housing project. The investigation is ongoing
Aug. 19, 2014: Katjieme Powell, 25, was killed after he was accused of stealing food. There is a pending lawsuit against police.
Aug. 12, 2014: Ezell Ford, 25, was killed during a traffic stop. There police has yet to release the autopsy report.
Aug. 12, 2014: Dante Parker, 18, was killed after police stopped him while riding his bike. The case remains pending.
Aug. 9, 2014: Michael Brown was killed as he was fleeing from Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, who later said he shot at the 18-year-old, while he "looked like a demon." Wilson was not indicted.
Aug. 5, 2014: John Crawford III, 22, was shot in a Wal-Mart as he carried a pellet gun that was being sold at the store. The officer in the shooting was not indicted.
July 17, 2014: Eric Garner, 43, whose last words were "I can't breathe." Although his death was ruled a homicide, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted.
2014: Tyree Woodson, 38, and Victor White III, 22, died last year in separate but similar incidents. The two had been checked for weapons and were in custody when police said they committed suicide. Both cases are pending.
Also killed during police chases were Victor Steen, 17, Ramarley Graham, 18, Kendrec McDade, 19, Jordan Baker, 26, Tamorn Robinson, 27, Larry Eugene Jackson Jr., 32, and Sharmel Edwards, 49.
Steen's mom settled for $500K. The Justice Department is investigating Graham's case. The FBI is investigating McDade's case. Baker's case is under investigation. Robinson's family settled for $2M. Officer in Jackson's case was indicted. Prosecutors ruled officer acted "reasonably and lawfully" in Edwards case.
SOURCE: The NAACP's legal defense fund and Local 10 News partners The Washington Post, CNN and The Associated Press
Porter said that the testimony included in the prosecutor's final report, showed that it was clear that a miscommunication between all of the officers was to blame for Herisse's death. The report said Herisse was endangering the public, while recklessly driving drunk and failing to stop. But Porter said, his family believes the police officers were the ones acting recklessly.
Porter said the family was also questioning the credibility of the police officer's allegations of aggravated assault that the prosecutor's final report show started the chase. Hialeah Officer Oscar Amago said Herisse's driver's side window was open, so he reached over to grab his left arm through the window. It was then, when Porter said, he should have had enough visibility to determine that Herisse was alone. But Amago said there were others in the car.
We think "he did not run over a police officer, as they initially alleged," Porter said.
The final report released Tuesday said that none of the shooting officers "provided voluntary statements or proffers of exactly what caused them to fire." The Herisse family attorney said they have been struggling to understand why a dozen police officers felt the need to shoot at him so many times.
"They shot at him 116 times," Porter said. "Did he rob a bank? Did he just rape somebody? Was he kidnapping a kid? What did he do to deserve that?"
SHOOTING OFFICERS: List of cops involved
As the bullets were flying in the crowded street some witnesses assumed Herisse was shooting at police officers, the report said. The report shows officers were getting inaccurate reports that lead them to believe that shooting at Herisse was justifiable, Porter said. While Herisse crashed into several cars, he wasn't the one wounding some of the revelers of the Urban Beach Weekend, a hip-hop festival that attracted a majority of African American tourists to South Beach that Memorial Day weekend.
Officer's stray bullets wounded four tourists -- who said police could have killed them or others -- during the three shootings on the crowded street.
During the investigation, police officers said Herisse was putting lives in danger with his car and he needed to be stopped, as he was speeding from 17th to 13th Street on Collins Avenue. Officers also said that when his car came to a stop, he did not follow commands and appeared to be moving to reach for a gun. A witness said he heard an officer shout, "He's got a gun!" And then, police officers fired their weapons.
Porter said Herisse's family remained suspicious about the gun police entered into evidence days after the shooting. Officers first reported they didn't find a gun on his possession or in the car. And a few days later -- after feeling the need to check the car again -- they found one, Porter said. First police said it was under the driver's seat covered by a towel. Later police said it was the gun was under the rear passenger side wrapped by a T-shirt. Technicians did not find his fingerprints on the gun.
And because her son had borrowed the car from a friend, Porter said, there was the possibility that he did not know about the gun. The family was also questioning the credibility of the officer who started the chase, as he claimed there were more people in the car with him, when in fact there were not. He said that when Herisse refused to follow his orders, he grabbed him through the window to try to pull him out of the car. Porter said that the family believes if that was true then he should have seen that he was alone.
During the last few years, Azor and Herisse have thought of their Raymond every time they have heard the stories of families wanting the officers who killed a black unarmed man to be punished. And there have been countless cases since the early morning when 12 police officers shot at him until he was dead.
All of the agencies involved were secretive. The day of the shooting witnesses said officers destroyed videos of the incident. When Miami Beach police refused to release records after a request, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Sigler ordered the department to release them. That included videos, police radio dispatches and 911 calls from the public. Miami Beach turned the results of their investigation over to the Miami-Dade County state attorney two years after his death.
The case was later referred to the Justice Department. Porter said Herisse's family was glad that something positive happened as a result of his death. Miami Beach police rules specified last year that officers were no longer allowed to fire at a moving car unless someone inside displayed a weapon.
"His family wants to move forward," Porter said. They want justice, because "a DUI [Driving Under the Influence of alcohol] should not come with a death sentence."
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