Yesterday, the Department of Justice delivered a 14-page public smackdown to the City of Miami Police Department that shows a pattern of excessive, deadly force, lack of supervision, and suspiciously drawn-out investigations. The feds' findings mean not only a headache for the city's top cops but also possible settlements in civil court for the families of shooting victims, courtesy of city taxpayers.
"They're in deep shit," Stuart Grossman, a veteran attorney who won a record civil verdict against MPD in 1993, says of the city's attorneys.
Back in 2010, MPD officers under then-Chief Miguel Exposito killed seven black men in eight months. The DOJ inquiry, which actually covered the force from 2008 until 2011, found that officers had fired 33 times at suspects in that time in part because of a "pattern or practice" of excessive force.
That could be a key finding for the families of those killed in the shootings.
"It's not binding, but it's extremely good leverage in court," says Jon Zepnick, an attorney representing the family of Gibson Belizaire, who was killed in a hail of police fire in Little Haiti in 2010. "You can now show that an independent body looked into the police and made a substantial finding of misconduct."
MPD's current chief, Manuel Orosa, released a statement "welcoming" the report but declining to discuss its findings, and the police union -- as well as Exposito -- hotly contested several pieces of the report.
But Grossman echoes Zepnick's point, that an independent report as in-depth as the DOJ's -- which relied on 17,000 pages of documents -- adds huge weight to family's arguments in civil court that police erred in killing their loved ones.
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Grossman relied on a similar finding of institutional problems in his landmark 1993 case, when the city paid out a then-record $7.5 million after officers put a suspect into a coma with a chokehold.
"The city could have to pay some humongous settlements, as in our police chokehold case, if there's a finding that practices, training, and procedures were to blame and they were generated from above, as opposed to one or two isolated events blamed on individuals," Grossman says.
That's almost exactly what the DOJ found. In other words: Get ready to pay up, Miami.