Feds: Miami Police's Use of Excessive Force Violated Fourth Amendment

Following a spree in which City of Miami Police shot and killed seven black men, many of them unarmed, in a span of eight months between 2010 and 2011, the Department of Justice has found that the department's pattern of using excessive force was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The feds' years-long investigation also found that the department was lax in investigating wrongdoings and rarely held its own accountable.

From the DOJ's findings:

Between 2008 and 2011, officers intentionally shot at individuals on 33 separate occasions, three of which MPD itself found unjustified. The department found that a number of MPD practices, including deficient tactics, improper actions by specialized units, as well as egregious delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations, contributed to the pattern or practice of excessive force.

The report alleges that the department dragged its feet on internal investigations into whether certain shootings were justifiable and that a small number of police were involved in a disproportionately high number of shootings, yet the investigations into those officers were delayed.

This is the second time the DOJ has investigated the department. MPD also came under scrutiny in 2002.

"Although MPD appeared to correct course after our first investigation, many of the systemic problems that we previously identified returned to root deeply in MPD's practices. Our findings should serve as a catalyst to help MPD and the City of Miami restore the community's confidence in fair, effective, and accountable law enforcement," said Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. "We look forward to collaborating with Chief Orosa, Mayor Regalado, and the people of Miami to create and implement a comprehensive, court-enforceable plan to ensure sustainable reform."

The shootings occurred under the controversial tenure of Chief Miguel Expositio.

"Under [former Chief John] Timoney, he preached not to use deadly force unless it's the last alternative," Larry Handfield, a lawyer chairing a panel formed by city Commissioner Richard Dunn to investigate the shootings, told New Times in 2010. "The new message [under Exposito] is, 'We'll take the streets back and meet violence with violence.' That permeates down."

Perhaps most damningly, Exposito was caught on film during the shooting of a failed reality-TV pilot describing his officers as "predators."

Exposito was fired in 2011, oddly only after a very public feud with Mayor Tomás Regalado over video gambling parlors.

Update: Current Police Chief Manny Orosa has released a statement on the DOJ's findings. Here's his full statement:

On July 8, 2013, the Miami Police Department received a response from Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice (D.O.J.) - Civil Rights Division, regarding their investigation of use of deadly force by Miami Police officers that occurred during the previous police administration. We are thankful to the D.O.J. for their acknowledgment, in writing, of a significant decrease in police-involved shootings in 2012. Success in this area comes as a result of reforms established under my direction.

The D.O.J.'s findings have reached us one year after the Miami Police Department's efforts to address all concerns regarding the shootings via a comprehensive report to D.O.J. highlighting numerous corrective actions taken by Chief Manuel Orosa and his administration. Our report indicated the agency's course of action to both investigate the shootings thoroughly and establish practices aimed at preventing their repetition.

The Miami Police Department welcomes this long-awaited response and looks forward to the opportunity to clarify several components of the letter, as well as to labor intensely to negotiate an agreement with the Department of Justice, as promptly as possible. While I understand the importance this matter has to our community, please consider this statement my sole comment at the current time until such agreement is reached between the Miami Police Department and the D.O.J.

The Miami Police Department will strive to continue providing professional police services in accordance with the tenets of the Constitution of the United States of America.

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