Adam Tavss, Pot-Growing Ex-Miami Beach Cop, Cleared in Tourist Shooting (Update)

Adam Tavss's short career as a police officer is long gone after getting caught running a marijuana grow house out of his basement. But Tavss didn't break the law by shooting and killing an unarmed tourist on Washington Avenue in 2009, the State Attorney's Office has decided.

In a close-out memo released last night, prosecutors say the disgraced cop was justified in shooting and killing Husien Shehada because the tourist didn't obey commands to raise his hands. Tavss also had reason to believe a beer bottle stuffed in Shehada's waistband was a weapon, they say. Really?

New Times visited Shehada's brother, Samer, in Washington, D.C., in 2009 and the engineer with Lockheed Martin tells a very different story from that agreed upon by police and prosecutors.

The Shehadas were visiting South Beach for a long weekend when an argument broke out between the brothers and their girlfriends. They left around 4 a.m. Samer says they were simply out to buy cigarettes, but police say they were looking to pick a fight.

Either way, Tavss and another officer, Donald Anderson, confronted the brothers after a bouncer called to report they were armed.

According to prosecutors, Tavss then yelled, "Put your hands up!"

Although surveillance video shows no aggressive moves by either brother before Husien crumples dead to the pavement, prosecutors have decided Tavss had reason to fire.

"Prior to the gunshots, Officer Anderson noticed that [Shehada] was touching a beer bottle stuffed down the front of his pants," they write in the close-out memo. "Anderson later suggested that from Officer Tavss's vantage point, it could have appeared that [Shehada] was grabbing for a weapon."

That's reason enough to apparently justify the shooting, even though Samer maintains neither brother made any threatening moves -- a narrative backed up by the surveillance footage.

John Contini, the Shehada family's lawyer, decried the report and pledged to sue the police department, telling the Miami Herald that the MBPD has an "incestuous" relationship with the State Attorney's Office and that "the prosecutor's office is part of the problem."

Prosecutors have yet to rule on a second shooting involving Tavss, which left Lawrence McCoy Jr. dead on the MacArthur Causeway just four days after Shehada's death.

Tavss, meanwhile, is serving two years of house arrest after pleading guilty to running the pot grow house.

Update: Samer Shehada, Husien's brother, called Riptide to talk about the memo. He says his family wasn't surprised prosecutors cleared Tavss in the shooting.

"It was what we'd been expecting for a long time, but it was still really hard to hear it," he says.

He says the report's contention that Tavss only shot after his brother made an aggressive move goes against what he saw in person and what surveillance video shows.

"If he was making such an aggressive move, why did only one officer shoot?" Shehada asks. "And it just so happens to be a guy with a drug problem and all these other issues?"

The Shehada family plans to push forward with a civil suit against Miami Beach, he says.

Read the state attorney's memo for yourself:


Update 2: By request, here's the surveillance video that shows Husien Shehada getting shot by Tavss. Decide for yourself if the Shehada made a threatening motion.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink