By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
It was right before midnight on July 3 when the dispatcher at Florida International University's police department reported a disturbance at the Panther Hall dormitory. Some students trying to enter were "disregarding the check-in policy." So goes the life of an FIU police officer in the middle of summer patrolling the practically deserted savanna of the school's main campus in southwest Miami-Dade. Unlock a door. Check an open window. Slim-jim some coed's car open.
Ofcr. Richard Diaz arrived at Panther Hall and confronted two students. These were not a couple of slackers who lost their keys. Suddenly this night became jarringly different from the usual monotony. This would be a guns-and-drugs-and-shots-fired-in-the-dark kind of night. After this, campus would seem more like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City than an academy of higher learning on summer sleep mode.
According to police reports, the two men said they were trying to enter the dorm to "get revenge" on several football players who had just shot at them. Later, with surprising candor, they would tell investigators that they sold marijuana to the football players regularly. They said the shooting was an attempted drug rip-off. One of the football players had arranged a meeting in a parking lot to buy a half-ounce of pot for $105. But when the two men drove to the designated spot they were jacked. Five men with bandannas covering their faces rushed them. At least three flashed guns. Despite the masks, the men in the car said they could easily identify the thugs. FIU Golden Panthers football team running back Diamos Demerritt allegedly yelled "Get out of the car motherfucker!" while waving his piece. Defensive back Randy Arnold also reportedly ordered them out while gripping a gun. With no good reason to listen, the driver hit the gas. BANG! That's when defensive back Everett Baker allegedly fired a shot "through the left rear window, striking the headrest of the driver's side" and exiting the passenger window.
When the cop examined the student's car, sure enough, there was a bullet hole in the headrest.
There were two campus police officers on duty that night, and there was a dorm with potentially armed suspects. The math wasn't in favor of law enforcement. Officer Diaz called the dispatcher, who in turn called a captain. Rather than radio for backup from Miami-Dade police, the captain had FIU investigators and commanders roused from sleep at their homes and brought in. How long it took them to arrive is in dispute. FIU Chief Jesse Campbell says it took him twenty minutes. But officers familiar with events that night say the two officers in the field were waiting for about 90 minutes. Some of the officers had to come from as far away as Broward County.
When the investigators finally arrived, they took the victims to the station and questioned them further. While the other officer on duty that night drove to the site of the shooting, Diaz continued to watch Panther Hall. That's when he saw Demerritt slip out of the building and hustle to his car. Diaz noted that he fit the description given by one of the dope-dealing victims and asked him to stop, according to the incident report. Demerritt ignored him. He made it to his car and opened the door before Diaz pulled his gun and ordered him on the ground. Diaz could see a gun wedged into the front seat.
By the time dawn broke, campus cops had three men in custody and confiscated two guns from Demerritt's car, a 9 mm from the front seat and a .45-caliber hand-cannon from the trunk. (Two other suspects are still at large.) At the station, the three men were put in a room and handcuffed to a chair. Eventually Chief Campbell ordered them breakfast -- McDonald's Egg McMuffins and orange juice. The school's cafeteria was closed.
"I didn't want them to starve, so sure I gave them breakfast," Campbell says. "Given the length of time they were there, it could've been construed as duress if they hadn't been fed."
FIU Police charged Baker, 20 years old, with attempted murder, armed robbery with a firearm, and aggravated assault with a firearm. They charged 21-year-old Demerritt and 20-year-old Arnold with armed robbery with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm, and possession of a firearm at a school. They face a minimum ten years in prison.
Now police are investigating whether this is the same group who burst into a Panther Hall dorm room on July 2 with bandannas over their faces, pistol-whipped the occupants, and demanded to know where the "weed" was. They left empty-handed, except for an Xbox they lifted from the room. Police found an Xbox matching the description in Demerritt's room.
This is some organized, violent, ass-kicking behavior to take place on a college campus -- especially by members of the school's up-and-coming football team (according to police). And this is a lot to lay on the 40-officer FIU police department, which had to interview suspects, locate weapons, and process a crime scene all at the same time. Something they decided to do themselves.
One thing is certain -- the life of an FIU cop is not easy on the ego. They are state-certified, armed, and fully empowered to investigate and arrest. Yet they know they are not supposed to be aggressive crime fighters. What's valued is service. Make sure everybody gets home safely from the dance. That kind of thing. And this can frustrate the officers. These arrests have only underscored the tension.
The cops are pumped to have tackled a case like this. But they were insulted when the chief bought breakfast for the suspects in a violent felony. They are proud it was FIU officers who did the takedown, but suspect that the only reason backup wasn't requested from another agency was to control information in a matter involving football players, guns, and drugs. And they wonder if that kind of thinking might put them at risk. After all, these were armed suspects who reportedly had already fired a gun that evening. What if the suspects found out a lone police officer was outside, waiting (and waiting) for his backup? They might have fired a couple of rounds in a panicked getaway. Although FIU police sources say they are routinely discouraged from bringing in outside agencies, Chief Campbell denies this.
"Typically we would do just that," Campbell says. "We have that kind of arrangement with neighboring police." In this case, he says, the shooting was over. It was a matter of identifying and locating suspects.
At any rate, with two suspects still on the loose, the midnight shift just got a lot more interesting.