Rundle Clears Miami-Dade Cop in Two Shootings, Including One of Unarmed Teen

Miami-Dade police Officer Ronald Neubauer (left) dodged charges from State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle (right).
Miami-Dade police Officer Ronald Neubauer (left) dodged charges from State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle (right). Photos by Miami-Dade Police Department/Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office
On Thanksgiving morning in 2018, Officer Ronald Neubauer of the Miami-Dade Police Department shot an unarmed 15-year-old foster boy in the lower back after responding to a domestic disturbance at a house near Homestead.

Neubauer, who apparently meant to fire his Taser, not his department-issued Glock, almost immediately realized his mistake: "Oh fuck!" he yelled after shooting the teenager, according to body-worn camera footage.

But after a 17-month investigation, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has quietly declined to pursue a criminal case against the officer. In a previously unreported close-out memo dated May 11, prosecutors stated that although Neubauer was not legally justified to use deadly force against the teen, they did not believe there was enough evidence to persuade a jury that he had committed a crime.

"Officer Neubauer's actions in this case were clearly negligent," the memo states. "However, simple negligence is not enough to convict a person of a crime in Florida."

The case marked the second time Rundle cleared the veteran officer for a shooting that year.

On March 29, 2018, Neubauer and fellow officer Richard Bellon shot 29-year-old Jahmal Parker at the scene of a crash on U.S. 1 a few miles north of the Florida Keys. On October 4, 2018 — seven weeks before Neubauer shot the 15-year-old foster child — the State Attorney's Office issued a close-out memo declining to press charges against Neubauer and Bellon, finding that their use of deadly force was justified.

Parker and the teenager shot by Neubauer both survived their injuries.

In 2017, Neubauer was honored for 25 years of service with the Miami-Dade Police Department — meaning he has spent 28 years on the force as of this summer.

During his tenure, he fired his gun in at least two other on-duty incidents: one in 2001 and another in 2007, in which the victim died.

According to Det. Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesperson for the police department, Neubauer has been relieved of duty with pay since the day of the November 2018 shooting. According to a county salary database, the officer, who is still working in an administrative capacity, made $100,589 last year.

Reached by New Times, Neubauer referred questions to the Professional Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), which provides legal help for police officers.

Teri Guttman Valdes, a Coral Gables-based attorney for PLEA who represents Neubauer, said she and her client are relieved the most recent investigation is over.

"Officer Neubauer is a very seasoned officer who loves the community that he serves," she told New Times. "And in this situation specifically, with regards to November 22, 2018, he was doing his job and it was a very unfortunate incident."

One year, two shootings

The two shootings in 2018 had more than a few similarities. Both victims had a history of mental illness and did not respond to Neubauer's commands as he attempted to take them into custody. In each case, Neubauer — despite his years of experience — apparently failed to distinguish a Taser from a handgun. And both times, Neubauer declined to provide a statement to investigators who reviewed the shootings.

In the Thanksgiving Day shooting, a woman called Miami-Dade Police about a 15-year-old foster child in her custody, saying he was having mental problems and had not taken his medication. Neubauer and his lieutenant responded to the family's house near Homestead and called for backup when the teen, identified in investigative reports only as C.P., refused to stand up from the couch as instructed.

According to the State Attorney's Office memo, Neubauer threatened to use his Taser, telling the teen: "I'm not gonna fight with you. I'm just gonna tase you." After Neubauer and two other officers struggled to gain control of C.P., the teen punched Neubauer in the head twice. Neubauer, who at that point was backed by four other officers, then yelled "Clear!" seven times, drew his gun, and shot C.P. in the lower back.

After cursing, Neubauer can be seen in body-worn camera footage holstering his firearm and then unholstering his Taser and quickly putting it back in place. Moments later, he approached his lieutenant and told him that he had not intended to draw his gun.

In the earlier shooting that year, Neubauer responded to another call of a person in distress. Drivers headed to the Keys called for help after a purple van rear-ended another car and plunged into a nearby canal. A group of good Samaritans rescued the driver, later identified as 29-year-old Jahmal Parker, from the van, but when paramedics and police arrived, Parker was dazed and uncooperative.

An investigative summary from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says Neubauer and Officer Richard Bellon were trying to get Parker to allow medics to check him for injuries. When Parker refused, Neubauer pulled out his Taser and threatened to "light him up." Parker then grabbed Bellon's Taser, and Neubauer fired his own Taser at Parker.

Bellon and Neubauer quickly pointed their guns at Parker, who refused to drop the stolen Taser. The officers said they fired shots at Parker when he pointed the Taser toward them. Parker was airlifted to the hospital with gunshot wounds to his right knee and left thigh.

After the shooting, Neubauer told Bellon he had not been sure whether Parker had grabbed Bellon's Taser or his gun, according to body-worn camera footage.

Parker was subsequently charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and depriving an officer of his weapon. Like C.P., he has a history of mental illness. Although the criminal charges against Parker are pending, court records show his competency has been called into question and a psychological evaluation has been ordered before his case can move forward.

No charges

In recent years, critics have called attention to the fact that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who is up for re-election this year, served for 24 years in office before bringing charges against a police officer for an on-duty shooting. (The officer she charged in 2017, Jonathan Aledda of North Miami, was convicted of culpable negligence at a trial in 2019.)

To date, Rundle has never charged an officer for an on-duty shooting that resulted in death.

She has also come under scrutiny for slow-walking investigations of police-involved shootings. In 2017, New Times staff writer Jerry Iannelli reported that 24 out of 59 such cases open at that time were more than two years old.

In the March 2018 shooting of Jahmal Parker, however, Rundle's office cleared Neubauer and Bellon relatively quickly. After a six-month investigation, prosecutors determined that Neubauer and Bellon were within their rights to shoot Parker because he had pointed a Taser at the officers and refused to drop it.

"Taking into account Mr. Parker's actions, it is reasonable to believe that the shooting officers considered it necessary to use deadly force to prevent injury to themselves and others," reads a close-out memo dated October 2, 2018. "Therefore, we find that Officer Richard Bellon and Officer Ronald Neubauer were legally justified in using deadly force by firing their weapons. No criminal charges will be filed."

The case involving the 15-year-old took significantly longer to investigate. In that case, prosecutors concluded that the teen posed no real threat to an experienced officer backed up by four comrades.

"At bottom, this incident involved an unarmed 15-year-old boy versus five adults, all of whom were professionally trained and state-certified Miami-Dade County law enforcement officers," the May 11 memo states. "Simply put, it would not have been remotely reasonable for Officer Neubauer to believe that deadly force was necessary in these circumstances, when he and his fellow officers had this adolescent contained in a small room and outnumbered 5 to 1."

But prosecutors also concluded that it was reasonable to believe Neubauer didn't intend to fire his gun.

"Although the investigation concluded that Officer Neubauer's actions were negligent, the evidence demonstrates that he did not intend to use deadly force," Rundle wrote. "Considering all of the facts, the required evidentiary threshold to support a prosecution was not met. Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed against Officer Ronald Neubauer."

The timing could not have been worse. Two weeks later, 46-year-old George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer wedged his knee into Floyd's neck, sparking protests across the U.S. As the movement made its way down to Miami, protesters and other activists have criticized Rundle for consistently failing to prosecute local police killings and brutality.

On Monday, a group of protesters and defense attorneys marched to Rundle's office in downtown Miami to criticize the state attorney.

"Hey, hey! Ho, ho! KFR has got to go!" they chanted, according to the Miami Herald.

Not the first (or second) time

In addition to the 2018 shootings, New Times was able to identify at least two other incidents in which Neubauer fired his weapon while on duty.

On June 25, 2001, Neubauer and fellow officer Kim Haney pulled over a van that had been identified as a suspect vehicle used by two men who'd stolen several cases of beer from three convenience stores in southwest Miami-Dade. When the officers tried to arrest the two men in the van, one of them — 37-year-old Jeffrey Hendon — hit the gas and took off, running over Haney's feet. According to a report in the Sun Sentinel, Neubauer then fired several shots into the van, striking Hendon in the leg.

Six years later, on October 9, 2007, the officer once again drew his weapon on a suspect in the Homestead area. Neubauer, along with another officer and a detective, was responding to the home of a man suspected of attempting to rob some convenience-store customers at gunpoint. When they arrived at the residence, the man was apparently armed, and "there was a confrontation," the Miami Herald reported at the time. Neubauer and the other officers fired at least 23 shots at the suspect, 49-year-old Francisco Acevedo.

Acevedo was hospitalized in critical condition and later died. His family members told the Herald that he was mentally ill and sometimes carried a BB gun or a fake gun for protection.

New Times requested, but has not yet received, Neubauer's disciplinary records from the Miami-Dade Police Department. New Times has also requested Rundle's close-out memos in the two prior cases.

Valdes, the attorney who represents Neubauer, said Miami-Dade prosecutors also cleared him in the 2001 and 2007 shooting incidents.

According to a national Pew Research Center survey from 2017, only 27 percent of U.S. police officers have ever fired their weapon while on duty. Those who are male, white, and work in larger cities, like Neubauer, were more likely to have fired their guns on the job.

Although the survey did not ask the officers how many times they'd fired their weapons during the course of their careers, Valdes said it's not surprising that Neubauer has been involved in four shootings over the span of 17 years.

"Officer Neubauer is a very proactive, well-trained, well-respected officer who's worked the road almost his entire career," she said. "He's a very hard-working individual, and when you are a hard-working individual working in some of the busier areas on busier shifts, you're going to respond to more situations that require police action. It's not an unusually high number of shootings for him to be involved in, given the length of his career."
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.