CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Richard Diaz’s life experience sits at the intersection of the thorny questions law enforcement officials will face from both investigators and the public following Thursday’s shootout that left four dead during rush hour traffic.
“I’m not surprised two innocent people died,” Diaz said. “Too much congestion. It is a miracle more people were not hurt or killed.”
The attorney who represents plaintiffs in police use-of-force cases and consults on officer-involved shooting situations is also a former Miami-Dade police officer. He said during his time on the force from 1980-89, he was himself involved in three shootouts. This makes Diaz uniquely positioned to speak to what he describes as one of the toughest decisions South Florida law enforcement personnel from various jurisdictions had to make -- the decision to pursue the fleeing suspects and work to swiftly contain a threat, knowing those actions could harm even more people.
“I am telling you this is a police officer’s nightmare,” Diaz said. “It is one of the most difficult shootings for me to evaluate because I can see a lot of reasons why it is justified and I can see a lot of reasons why it may not be. I can tell you right now, based on what I have seen, that I can make a case on either side here to defend the officers actions and to criticize them.”
The public’s reaction to the shootout was swift on social media, with some observers, including the family of the innocent UPS driver, claiming the officers involved acted recklessly.
One Twitter user summarized the question on the minds of so many, posting, “Why shoot at the UPS truck knowing the driver was being held hostage during rush hour with so many people stuck in traffic?”
Miami-Dade Police Department Director Juan Perez is asking for patience before anyone draws conclusions.
“I think the biggest danger here is to judge too quickly,” Diaz said.
Reviewing Sky 10 video, along with cellphone video and what investigators have said, Diaz said the law enforcement argument is that this escalating threat required swift action to save lives.
“We have people shot in the jewelry store," Diaz said. "These people are heavily armed. They are brazen. This is a truck-jacking. They took a person hostage. These are real, serious criminals.”
Then Diaz considers the perspective of whether police should have stopped their pursuit.
“They were not running cars off the road," Diaz explained. “They were not ramming cars or shooting people."
Many observers, including Diaz, wonder if police could have monitored the truck with air support and waited to close in when there were less people around.
“We don’t know if the situation would have gotten worse later or not, but what we do tend to know is that when people are being chased by police and you got a hostage, the more you ratchet it up, the more likelihood there is going to be a confrontation like this, and that is what I think police are going to have difficulty explaining and justifying," he said.
What happens next is up to the state attorney’s office, which will begin the procedure for an inquest.
According to former state and federal prosecutor David Weinstein, the public inquest will take place in Broward County, since that’s where the shootout occurred. The inquest will follow the procedures found below.
In 2016, Local 10 News reporter Christina Vazquez examined why it is hard to prosecute officers in police-involved shootings. CLICK HERE to see that story.