Many unarmed motorists shot by police officers don't live to tell their side of the story. Michael Gavins is the exception.
And the story Gavins tells is disturbing. He was unarmed and says he was not resisting when South Miami Police Officer Aryo Rezaie shot him in the back November 15, 2015. But the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the officer, citing a small amount of marijuana in Gavins' possession and conflicting reports about when he raised his hands.
Now Gavin is suing the South Miami Police Department. The suit was moved to federal court last week.
"Notwithstanding Gavins being unarmed, compliant, posing no threat, and having his hands up, [Rezaie] fired his gun at Gavins, striking him in the back in the rear right underarm area," the lawsuit reads.
Photographs Gavins provided New Times show the bullet entered his body just under his armpit, narrowly avoiding his major internal organs. Though cops say Gavins was reaching into his waistband when Rezaie opened fire, Gavins wasn't carrying a weapon, and an eyewitness backed up his side of the story.
Police did say they found baggies of weed in his car, but Gavins denies the drugs were his.
Gavins, now 36, spent his college years starring as a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri football team. But those days are behind him now: Last November, Gavins says, he was driving to get a hamburger after a Dolphins game when a pair of South Miami cops pulled him over for having tinted windows on his white Mitsubishi. When the cop pulled up to the side of his car, they claimed they smelled weed. But Gavins told New Times that, having been stopped numerous times before, he pulled up his shirt to show he didn't have any weapons.
The cops then asked Gavins to step out of his car. He says he complied and calmly rested his hands on the hood of the police cruiser. Gavins says Rezaie then began barking frightened orders.
"Don't move!" Gavins says the cops shouted. Then Gavins said he heard a pop, and his side lit up like it had been set on fire. He said he thought he was about to die.
"I'm losing blood, getting cold, I think I'm gonna die," Gavins told New Times in January. "I'm thinking, For what? I shoulda stayed home. I went to see my family and friends, and he shot me."
Gavins wasn't the first to tussle with Rezaie: Multiple civilians have filed complaints against him.
However, prosecutors declined to charge Rezaie in the shooting. They say evidence suggested Gavins was stuffing weed into his waistline to hide it from the officer when Rezaie was demanding he put his hands in the air. That gave the cop reason enough to fear Gavins was reaching for a weapon, prosecutors ruled. Gavins' attorney called that accusation "total nonsense."
Nowadays, Gavins says, he has PTSD-like symptoms whenever a cop car drives by.
"I can't sleep," he said in January. "Every time I hear sirens, I tense up."
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Now he's suing both Rezaie and the City of South Miami for battery, negligence, and violating his civil rights.
Here's a copy of the complaint, which was filed in August but has now been transferred to federal court: