A Shot in the Dark

Who did Mario Barcia think he was aiming at when he shot a cop?

During the bond hearing, McCully sketched a psychological profile of an explosive assailant. McCully insisted, like VanderGiesen had, that Barcia had the propensity to just snap. "He ended up getting very, very agitated; very aggressive," the detective said about Barcia's demeanor during the five-hour interrogation. "He took his hands and smacked himself on the head; and took his hands and slammed his knuckles on the table. [He says,] 'I know what the fuck you guys are doing. I work at the clerk's office. I know how cops throw down guns. You guys are trying to frame me.'"

Barcia was worried because, among other things, he has a criminal record. In November 2000 Barcia took a blue Chevy pickup from a former colleague for a "joyride." The owner called the police, who caught up to Barcia on Dickens Avenue in Miami Beach. "Officer, this is a practical joke I'm playing on Ivan [Souto, the owner]. I was going to call him," Barcia reportedly told the police as he stepped out of the pickup with his hands in the air. Souto arrived and told the police that he didn't know Barcia well enough for pranks like this to make him laugh. Barcia pleaded no contest, got probation and, at the time of the shooting incident, was in the process of getting the arrest expunged from his record. "I made a mistake," Barcia insists today. "It was a joke; stupidity on my part."

During the bond hearing, McCully said that Barcia had a negative attitude toward police, which the detective related to Barcia's two failed attempts to become a law enforcement officer. In June 2000 Barcia applied to the Key West Police Department. According to Key West Sgt. Adam Bittinger, Barcia was disqualified from employment for failing a lie-detector test and showing "attitude toward police officers for giving him eight traffic tickets in the past three years." Barcia says he told McCully about the Key West application. He also says he admitted to Key West police that he'd lied about stealing boat equipment from the back of a pickup while he worked at Contender Boats in Homestead. He returned the pumps and no charges were filed. Barcia had also applied to be a Miami-Dade cop but didn't complete the lengthy application process because he didn't think the job paid enough for the risk involved.

Jonathan Postal
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After the five-hour interrogation, McCully asked if Barcia would give an oral statement. Barcia refused and asked for a lawyer.

Home invasions

Barcia was not known as a violent person, but he grew up in a turbulent household. His parents, Nancy Barcia and Mario, Sr., had Mario, Jr. when they were teens. His father is a handyman. His mother has always stayed at home. The pair had a confrontational relationship, marred by mutual accusations of philandering and drug abuse. Bad luck and economic difficulties forced the family to move from house to house. After their home was flattened by Hurricane Andrew, they rented a small one-story cottage in the City of North Miami. One night, while they were asleep, a man tried to break in. Barcia's father chased the intruder away, but Junior, who was thirteen at the time, was afraid. "What are you going to protect yourself with? A knife?" Barcia asked his father about the incident. The next day, Barcia's father bought a gun, a Ruger 9mm, and his son slept soundly again.

Still Barcia couldn't escape the turmoil. In 1998 Barcia's parents got an ugly divorce. They no longer speak. For a time afterward, Barcia lived in Countrywalk in the house his parents had abandoned following their breakup, so he could save money and help Mercedes pay for college. One night, while Barcia slept, someone tried to come through the back patio. Barcia heard the person fumbling around, then saw his hand as he tried to pry open the sliding glass doors. He yelled, and the person fled.

Following this second scare, Barcia decided he needed more protection. Using tax refund money, he went to the Southern Police Supply on NW Twentieth Avenue and NW Seventh Street and bought an H&K pistol. He was accustomed to weapons by then. In addition to his father's gun, Barcia had worked in the Sports Authority at the International Mall on NW 107th Avenue and NW 12th Street, where he was in charge of counting the gun stock each night at closing. After buying the H&K, Barcia went to the range, took a course in gun safety, and got a concealed weapon permit. He says the instructor was a former police officer who taught them to use the weapon "only as a last resort." For Barcia, the H&K was a trinket and, if need be, a means of protection. "I felt safer," he says of the gun. "I didn't think anything of it when I slept."

But Barcia wasn't obsessed by the gun. When money was tight before Christmas last year, Barcia pawned it for $250, then used the money to pay some bills. He was with Mercedes now. They'd been married in 2001. With the help of Mercedes's grandparents, the couple purchased the three-room duplex in Cutler Ridge. They painted the walls, bought new furniture, and got a widescreen TV to host the occasional Sunday football party. What's more, Mercedes was pregnant. It was beginning to feel like home until August 4, when Mercedes returned from work to find the place a mess and their belongings missing.

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