Police

Police Cleared in 2019 Shooting of Mentally Ill North Miami Man

Pierre Cherfrere was shot by Miami-Dade and North Miami police on March 30, 2019.
Pierre Cherfrere was shot by Miami-Dade and North Miami police on March 30, 2019. Photo by Miami-Dade Police Department
On the afternoon of March 30, 2019, while riding the bus from work to her North Miami home, Isemailene Cherfrere saw a body on the ground and a throng of police officers near the intersection of NE 119th Street and West Dixie Highway.

"Something told me to stop, but I went home," she says.

She didn't think much of the scene after the bus drove past it. But by that evening, Isemailene and her family began to worry about her brother, Pierre Cherfrere. The 25-year-old had gone fishing earlier in the day and hadn't come home.

The family filed a missing persons report the next day. Another of Pierre's sisters scrolled through Facebook and saw a video showing the previous day's police scene and a body covered by a yellow tarp. Something in the footage stood out to her — the flip-flops Pierre liked to wear everywhere he went. It was a devastating way to find out where he was.

"The family was never the same afterward," Isemailene says.

They would soon learn that Pierre had been shot by police after a tense encounter in which, according to officers, he refused to put down a shotgun. A close-out memo from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office signed by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle last month says the 11 officers who fired their weapons have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the officers' actions were criminal or not in self defense or in the defense of others," the memo states. "Therefore, we find the officers' use of deadly force to be legally justified."

Despite that finding, Isemailene tells New Times she wonders if the officers could have done more to de-escalate the situation or called a mental-health professional to the scene. She says her brother was mentally ill and that in the days leading up to the shooting, he seemed especially paranoid.

Isemailene says their mother paid close attention to Pierre's changing behaviors and agonized over whether to send him to a psychiatric facility. According to Isemailene, her mother had a friend in Haiti whose son suffered from mental illness and was shot by police in front of his mother. Isemailene says her mom worried that asking for help for Pierre would only cause more harm.

"Where do we go?" Isemailene says. "Who can we trust?"

None of the 11 officers who fired their weapons provided statements or interviews for the State Attorney's Office investigation, but six civilian witnesses and about two dozen other officers at the scene did. Investigators also reviewed body-worn-camera footage from 22 officers at the scene.

Before Pierre was shot, he was seen walking along West Dixie Highway armed with a shotgun and wearing what appeared to be body armor, according to the memo from prosecutors. Witnesses called 911.

Around that time, a North Miami code-enforcement officer said he was finishing some paperwork in his car when he heard someone tap on his window. He told State Attorney's Office investigators that he saw a man, later identified as Pierre, carrying a shotgun and wearing what looked like a bulletproof vest. According to the code-enforcement officer's statement, Pierre "appeared agitated and kept asking for the time." The code-enforcement officer drove away slowly and called police, keeping an eye on Pierre in his rearview mirror and updating a dispatcher on Pierre's location.

The civilian witnesses and other officers described a tense scene, with police ordering Pierre to drop the shotgun and devising an attempt to stun and disarm him.

Officers negotiated with Pierre in English and Creole for 47 minutes and ordered him to put down the gun, prosecutors said in the memo. One of the Creole-speaking officers told State Attorney's Office investigators that Pierre "told the officers that he wanted the police to shoot him and pointed at his own forehead to indicate where he wanted to be shot."

When Pierre refused to drop his weapon, a police commander shot him with a beanbag round, which is considered a less lethal type of ammunition, in hopes of stunning or disarming him so a group of officers behind ballistic shields could approach and handcuff him.

But the beanbag didn't work. The officers say Pierre raised his shotgun toward the group of police approaching him. Eleven officers — nine from the Miami-Dade Police Department and two from the North Miami Police Department — fired their weapons, striking Pierre with 28 bullets. He died at the scene.

According to prosecutors, a second gun, a pistol, was found in Pierre's waistband.

"For reasons known only to him, the deceased armed himself with two loaded firearms and held police and a largely residential community at bay for nearly an hour, refusing to cooperate, relinquish the weapon he was brandishing, or surrender," the State Attorney's Office memo reads. "All efforts to negotiate with him were fruitless. When a non-lethal attempt was made to end the standoff, the defendant pointed the loaded shotgun at officers, giving them no choice but to shoot."

The memo says Pierre legally purchased the shotgun from a pawn shop on November 6, 2018. The pistol found in his waistband was registered to a dead person but never reported stolen. It's not clear how it came into Pierre's possession.

Isemailene says she didn't know her brother owned guns, much less where he got them.

"What I knew is he was mentally ill," she says. "No one should have sold him a gun."
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Alexi C. Cardona is a former staff writer at Miami New Times.