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Miami Beach Police Chase That Killed Bystander Likely Violated Department's Own Rules

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A Miami Beach Police officer late Monday night chased down a suspect allegedly driving a stolen car — then wound up slamming into another vehicle and killing the innocent woman inside. Yet according to a copy of MBPD's internal rules, the entire ordeal never should have happened.

During a news conference earlier this week, Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates said that around 11:10 p.m. Monday, a local driver parked a blue BMW near the 7400 block of Collins Avenue, left the keys in the car, and ran into a convenience store. Timothy Bowers, a 35-year-old homeless man, then jumped into the car and drove off. The car's owner alerted police, and officers spotted the car traveling around Miami Beach about 40 minutes later. One cop tried to stop the BMW, but Bowers allegedly sped off. A second cop tried, and after Bowers allegedly dashed again, one of the officers pursuing him collided with a Honda SUV driven by 68-year-old North Beach resident Ivonne Reyes. She later died at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

When cops eventually cornered Bowers in the BMW, Oates said, the driver repeatedly rammed the vehicle into two patrol cars — injuring officers — before driving down the pedestrian beach walk. Bowers, who was arrested Wednesday, faces charges of grand theft auto, cocaine possession, and resisting an officer without violence.

The "without violence" part is key, because Miami Beach Police's internal rules state cops can chase subjects by car only for "violent felonies." The reason: Police chases can kill innocent bystanders. (Other reporters noted this rule earlier this week.) According to the latest police narrative of the incident, Bowers is not accused of using violence before police chased him.

But during the police's press briefing Tuesday, City Manager Jimmy Morales placed the blame for Reyes' death not on police, but on Bowers alone.

"It's a sad day in any community when the criminal actions of an individual result in the loss of a life of an innocent bystander and an injury to two law enforcement officers," Morales said. "Sadly, that's what happened late last night here in Miami Beach."

He added it was "an accident that didn't need to occur but for the actions of a criminal."

Oates also blamed Bowers, not the cops who appear to have broken department policy.

"That's all part of the investigation right now," Oates said. "Generally, our policy is we pursue for violent felonies. Again, the totality of the pursuit and all the circumstances and all the officers' actions are part of the larger investigation as to what occurred. But I want to remind everyone, OK: This all started with a dangerous individual stealing a car and driving recklessly through our city."

MBPD spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez tells New Times the chief has made no decisions about whether the pursuit violated departmental policy. But the written guidelines for Miami Beach officers seem clear: They can chase suspects who have committed a "violent felony." The policy defines those as "violence or the threat of violence to another person," including "murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, armed robbery, sexual battery, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, or any other felony which includes the use or threat of physical force or violence to a person."

The rulebook also issues a dire warning: Engaging in a car chase is "tantamount to using deadly force." That's because police chases can kill people. Though pursuits may be depicted as either harmless, comedic stunts or high-octane maneuvers by expert drivers, the reality is far simpler: Cops and suspects driving too fast have killed thousands of innocent people. According to a 2015 USA Today investigative series, 30 percent of police chases end with a crash. Since 1979, police chases have killed more than 5,000 bystanders.

Thus, Miami Beach PD has instituted policies restricting high-speed pursuits. Other South Florida police forces follow similar guidelines, and for good reason: Miami-area officers have killed people in high-profile crashes. Last year, New Times obtained footage of City of Miami cops chasing down a group of motorcyclists on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Seconds into the video, a motorcyclist with his girlfriend on the back of his bike disappears from the camera's view; as his friends approach, they realize both riders smacked into a concrete barrier and flew off an overpass. The motorcyclist died on the scene, but Miami PD has steadfastly denied any police chase took place.

In another incident, the family of a dead man sued the Miami Police Department in 2017 after a driver being chased by undercover cops lost control and slammed into bystander Javier Muñoz in 2015. The crash severed Muñoz's legs. He later died from his injuries.

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