In August 2010, three Miami police officers fired at least 130 rounds into 21-year-old Gibson Belizaire, who died from his wounds behind a Little Haiti shop. Belizaire was the sixth young black man killed that year by MPD under then-Chief Miguel Exposito. Belizaire's mother then sued the city, the officers involved, and Exposito in federal court, claiming they'd used excessive force on her son and that Exposito had created an "unofficial policy" tolerating such abuses.
Now a federal judge has ruled on the case, and though he dismissed claims against Exposito and the cops who shot Belizaire, he ruled Belizaire's family can continue with their claims against the city.
- Gibson Belizaire: Victim or Criminal?
"It's been a very tough case, but I'm pleased with the ruling," Jon Zepnick, the family's attorney, tells Riptide.
U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ruled that Belizaire's family can present more evidence to bolster their claims that excessive force was used and tolerated routinely by Exposito's officers.
"At no time during this standoff did the police request that Mr. Belizaire drop any weapons he had and surrender himself peacefully," Moreno writes in a summary posted on Courthouse News. "Instead, the officers without warning fired approximately 130 rounds at Mr. Belizaire. Rounds fired by Officers Diaz, Guzman, and Cazassus struck Mr. Belizaire in the top of his head and the side of his temple, killing him."
Belizaire died August 14, 2010, after a bizarre standoff with police that began with a domestic violence call by Belizaire's girlfriend. When police spotted the 21-year-old in his car, he leaped out, allegedly fired at police, and ended up hiding in a weed-filled lot behind a building at NW 62nd Street and Second Avenue.
That's where police eventually rained 130 rounds onto him, hitting him 18 times and killing him on the spot. They presented the case as a simple matter of an armed suspect who was killed after he refused to surrender, but the truth was more complex.
Here's what we wrote about the case a month later:
One month later, Belizaire's death is mostly a footnote in a hotly debated six weeks when Miami Police fatally shot four suspects in Overtown, Liberty City, and Little Haiti. The killings have left black Miami teetering on a violent edge in a way unseen in a decade and have led community leaders to question new police Chief Miguel Exposito's tactics.
Belizaire's story has never been told in full because, of the four men killed by police, his death seemed the easiest to accept. He had a criminal record, he was armed, and he allegedly fired at police. Breaking precedent from the other cases, MPD never named the cops who shot him.
But senior police sources have confirmed to New Times that among the officers who killed Belizaire were Eric Guzman and George Diaz. Both have troubling records of violence against suspects, and each has killed another man in the past year. Add it up, and his case raises even more questions for the department to answer about this deadly summer.
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Now, Belizaire's family has until October to convince Moreno that police indeed used excessive force on him. Zepnick says the ruling will also force MPD to turn over ballistics reports and other documents that he's so far been unable to review.
"Now we'll have a chance to get to the bottom of what really happened," he says.