Miami Police Chief: Ultra Organizers Could Face Charges Over Trampling
Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa points out where gate crashers breached Ultra security.
Photo by Michael E. Miller
Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa was defiant during a news conference on Monday, saying his department warned Ultra about the weak spot in the event's fence where a security guard would later be trampled.
He went so far as to suggest that Ultra organizers could face criminal charges over the trampling.
"Someone [at Ultra] decided to change the plans at the last moment," Orosa said. "That's what led to the incident."
Orosa said his officers conducted a security walk-through of Ultra an hour or two before it opened on Friday evening. The vast majority of the festival was surrounded by sturdy, eight-foot "G8" fencing, he said.
However, a small section near the southwest corner -- where food and drink was brought in for vendors to sell -- was walled off with just a chainlink fence.
"We brought this to the attention of Ultra personnel," Orosa said. "We told them to fix it. Their fix was a double chainlink fence."
It was that double chainlink fence that a group of gate crashers toppled onto security guard Erica Mack a few hours later, breaking her leg and crushing her head beneath their feet. She remains in stable but critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Orosa said his department was culling video from nearby banks and the public in hopes of identifying some of the youths responsible for the trampling. The culprits could face charges of culpable negligence -- a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
However, Orosa also said someone at Ultra could face similar charges for failing to properly reinforce the fence.
"There is a twofold investigation," he said. "One, a criminal investigation as to the culpable negligence of any individual who had the say-so to do the changing away from the permit and would have been able to think that something like this could have happened."
There is also an investigation by Occupational Safety and Health Administration into how and why the accident happened, he said.
But one thing Orosa did not blame Ultra for was the number of police at the music festival. Some politicians have claimed that Ultra has pushed back against the police's presence at the yearly event. But the chief said that the number of cops at the event has soared from 115 in 2011 to 260 this year.
"Every time we ask Ultra for more officers, they always say yes and provide the funds," Orosa said.
Cops can earn up to $2,000 extra by working the weekend-long event. That's more than half a million dollars Ultra paid Miami Police this year.
Orosa was evasive when asked about Adonis Peña Escoto, who New Times revealed had died Saturday night in his car after attending Ultra. Escoto's family has said they suspect someone slipped the 21-year-old a drink spiked with drugs, but Orosa said a toxicology report could take up to two months.
If indeed drug-related, it would be the second such death in two years. Last year, 20-year-old New Jerseyan Anthony Cassano died at Ultra of a suspected overdose.
But the police chief was quick to exonerate both his department and Ultra of any drug-related deaths.
"When I was a kid, you'd go to any concert and people would take drugs. It hasn't changed, and I don't think it's going to change in the future," he said. "It's just a matter of whatever music it is, whether it's rock 'n' roll or electronic music like at Ultra. There are people who want to get high, and sadly history has not taught us a lesson yet.
"It's just human responsibility whether or not you are going to stop short of killing yourself or you want to continue down the path and go ahead and kill yourself," Orosa added. "We can control the drugs coming into Ultra as best as we can, but whatever happens outside at your home, we really can't control that."
Citing rampant drug use, noise complaints, and now the security guard trampling, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff have both called for Ultra to be kicked out of the city next year. A decision could come as soon as city hearing on April 10.
Despite the money the music festival brings Miami Police -- not to mention the millions for downtown hotels, bars, and the Bayfront Park Management Trust -- Orosa said cops would adapt to whatever decision the city makes.
"I follow orders from the elected officials. They are my bosses," he said. "If they decide that they don't want it anymore, we will plan accordingly. If they decide that they are going to keep it, we will plan accordingly as well."
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