Two years ago, a New Times investigation raised serious questions about the planning and execution of a Miami-Dade Police operation that left four robbers dead in the Redland. Last week — nearly three years after the June 30, 2011 shootout — the State Attorney's Office finally announced that none of the 11 shooting officers would face criminal charges.
But the SAO wasn't full of praise for the cops. Instead, the strident, 40-page report accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly even planting evidence. Prosecutors found only one of the four deaths "justified" and pointed out the cops weren't necessarily innocent. Instead, there simply wasn't enough evidence to prove their guilt.
"There are a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious, and/or disturbing factors that make these some of the most unsettling and troublesome decisions we have ever made in a police involved shooting," prosecutors concluded.
While the dismissal of charges is a blow to families seeking justice, the report has also revitalized their legal efforts. Family members of three of the men have filed suit over the operation, in which MDPD lured a gang of five robbers to a supposed drug stash house at 18930 SW 216th St. One of the robbers — Rosendo Betancourt — was really a police informant, and the stash house was surrounded by police snipers.
The report reveals how four of the men were ruthlessly gunned down. Cops shot Jorge Lemus as he crouched behind a car (the only "justified" shooting). Betancourt was the next to die. He put his hands in the air, then lay down on the ground and crawled toward cops as commanded. Sgt. Manuel Malgor told him to turn over. Betancourt was then blasted 23 times. Malgor claimed the informant had reached for his gun.
Antonio Andrew was then shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, cops claimed he reached for a gun, although prosecutors determined cops gave Andrew contradictory orders. Finally, Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr. was killed as he lay in the fetal position underneath a tree. Cops fired 52 shots at the ringleader, striking him almost 40 times, even though Gonzalez had already tossed his weapon. His son, the getaway driver, was arrested.
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"We have a system of justice that requires apprehension, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing," says Justin Leto, an attorney handling wrongful-death lawsuits for Lemus and Andrew. "And I don't see any evidence that would indicate that these people needed to be shot on sight."
"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they had promised," says Matthew Leto, Justin's brother, who is representing Betancourt's family.
MDPD did not respond to a request for comment.
The SAO report, which calls Betancourt's killing "greatly disturbing" and deems Malgor's account "inherently incredible," could help those civil cases.