Deadly Police-Involved Shooting Raises Familiar Question: Are Cops Stepping In Front of Cars?

On Friday afternoon, two small-time criminals entered a CVS pharmacy in Kendall and allegedly began pocketing some of the goods. By the time Miami-Dade Police officers arrived, Yolanda Thomas and Xavier Johnson were already pulling out of the parking lot and making their getaway.

Cops pursued the shoplifting suspects for 20 blocks until Thomas struck a barricade post, bringing the car to a halt.

What happened next left two people dead and has again raised questions of Miami-Dade Police procedure.

See also:
- Miami-Dade Cops Shot Four People for Using Cars as Deadly Weapons

"When the officers tried to get out of their vehicle and approach the other vehicle on foot, [Thomas] attempted to utilize the vehicle to strike an officer," Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta told the Miami Herald.

The two cops -- whose identities have not yet been released -- then opened fire on the car, killing Thomas and wounding Johnson. Johnson later died at Kendall Regional Hospital.

By itself, the shooting is a sad case of shoplifting escalating into a deadly standoff.

But as we wrote in September, Miami-Dade Police frequently cite suspects using their cars as deadly weapons as justification for opening fire.

Last year, at least four unarmed suspects were shot and killed by MDPD because they allegedly used their automobiles as weapons against police. In some cases, cops were actually hit by the suspects' cars. In others, it is unclear whether the officers were truly in danger.

In Friday's shooting, for instance, it's uncertain how Thomas's car could be much of a threat after it had hit a barricade and shuddered to a stop.

Miami-Dade Police have not yet released more information on the shooting. However, a police spokesman did send us the department's policy on when cops are allowed to open fire (emphasis added by New Times):

E. Discharge of Firearms Restrictions:
1. Even when deadly force is justified, firearms shall not be discharged under the following circumstances: a. As a warning. [CALEA 1.3.3] b. When there is unreasonable risk to the safety of persons other than the subject. (See Annex A)

2. When a moving vehicle is involved, use of deadly force by discharging a firearm is dangerous, can be ineffective, and should be avoided when there is unreasonable risk to the safety of persons other than the subject.

3. Officers shall not intentionally place themselves in the path of a vehicle. If they find themselves in danger from a moving vehicle, they shall attempt to move out of the way, if possible, rather than discharging their firearm. Firing at a moving motor vehicle will not, in most circumstances, stop the vehicle.

4. When a moving vehicle is involved, the use of deadly force by discharging a firearm at the vehicle is authorized only when: a. he officer has a reasonable belief that an occupant of the vehicle poses an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person, or b. The officer has a reasonable belief that an occupant is using the vehicle in a manner which poses an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person, and there is no reasonable avenue of escape.
From this policy, it's hard to see how the police officers wound up in front of Thomas's car, let alone how and why they opened fire.

As CBS4 reports, the Johnson's family is now demanding to know how the 31-year-old wound up dead for stealing from CVS.

It's a good question, but one that probably won't be answered for a very long time.

New Times is still waiting for a report on a Miami-Dade Police operation that killed four suspected robbers in the Redland. And that happened more than a year and a half ago.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.