In the early hours of August 10, 2007, Broward Sheriff's deputy Chris Reyka was gunned down in the parking lot of a Pompano Beach drugstore. Despite a massive manhunt and a $270,000 reward, the mysterious case was never solved.
Now, however, detectives believe they have their man: Shawn LaBeet, a 25-year-old Islander who was himself shot to death a month after Reyka during a standoff with police.
Miami New Times set out to see if LaBeet was, in fact, the most likely suspect. Our investigation ultimately took us to a remote prison in Polk County to talk to a drug dealer covered in psychological warfare tattoos.
See also: Shawn LaBeet: Cop Killer Redux
To get to the Polk Correctional Institution, you must head four hours north towards Orlando, exit at the Middle of Nowhere, proceed past small villages of ramshackle houses draped in hanging moss, until you arrive at Florida's sad, sickly heart.
You will be welcome. Visitors are few here, and viewed with curiosity like passing comets. (Even the guards seem happy to have someone new around who isn't suspected of hiding a shiv up his rectum.)
I had arrived to interview Jaleel Torres, Shawn LaBeet's nephew and the man police told me knew the cop killer best.
A skinny man with café con leche skin and fresh, black tattoos slunk into a chair across from me. He had the same sleepy eyes and round nose as his uncle.
"No bullshit, I was probably the closest person to him," Torres told me.
He described his uncle as a regular guy who had come to be consumed by hatred for cops after an arrest as a juvenile.
"He was foaming at the mouth and shit" in jail, Torres said. "I don't know if he was claustrophobic or what the hell it was. But when he came out of there, he said, 'I'll never go to jail again.'"
LaBeet usually kept at least one AK-47 in his car and a pistol in his belt, Torres said.
"He'd tell you when you got in his car: 'If I get stopped, I'm gonna kill the cop,'" Torres said. "I ain't into killing people. I'm just a marijuana dealer."
"He hated cops," Torres said of LaBeet. "Just hated them. Period."
As he talked, Torres showed off his prison tatts, including the words "POWER" and "SEDUCTION." When asked why he had "WAR" inked on his left hand, Torres said it was because "all life is like that. It just stands for social interaction: everyone is always using underhanded tactics to get what they want. They smile at you but underneath they are planning to use you."
Torres himself was cagily calculating how much to share in his interview. He revealed his tattoos, but was coy about what, exactly, his uncle told him around the time of Chris Reyka's killing.
According to Torres, LaBeet spoke to him only a few days after the Pompano Beach shooting and a month before LaBeet's own death. "I had a dream," LaBeet allegedly said. "I had a dream about being in a shootout with police."
"Sometimes his dreams would come true," Torres said knowingly.
Torres also offered other clues that his uncle killed Chris Reyka, including sketching a pattern of attacks on police.
He said LaBeet admitted to "taking a pot shot" at a passing cop car in Naranja. In fact, detectives say such shooting did occur in the year or so before LaBeet's death but was never solved. The cop was unhurt.
Torres also said his uncle confessed to killing a man near his Naranja apartment over the attempted theft of LaBeet's bulldogs.
That story also matches an unsolved case. On November 5, 2006, a man by the name of Sasha Henderson was shot and killed two blocks from LaBeet's house by a man in a mask with an AK-47.
Ultimately, Torres said that his uncle's obsession with taking vengeance on cops came between them.
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"I couldn't get in the car with him because I knew what he would do if he was pulled over," Torres said. "I told him: 'You're about confronting police officers and blowing someone's head off. I'm about smoking weed, doing ecstasy, dealing drugs, and staying under the radar.'"
Although Broward Sheriff's Office detectives believe LaBeet killed Sgt. Reyka, the case remains open. BSO encourages anyone with information on Reyka's killing to call the hotline at 954-880-3950.
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