It has been more than nine months since 27-year-old UPS driver Frank Ordonez was kidnapped by jewelry thieves and gunned down in a police shootout in the middle of Miramar Parkway.
How exactly Ordonez died — and whose bullet fatally struck him — remain unclear as a matter of public record. Citing its ongoing investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been tight-lipped about the incident, except to say that 20 police officers opened fire around Ordonez and his hijacked UPS truck.
Ordonez's estate filed a lawsuit this week, claiming one thing is certain: The Miami-Dade Police Department and five other law enforcement agencies had a disorganized response to the hostage situation, with fatal consequences for Ordonez.
The lawsuit claims that police boxed in the fleeing kidnappers in heavy traffic and failed to negotiate with them, making a violent confrontation inevitable. A lack of coordination between the responding agencies contributed to the chaotic handling of the crisis, the lawsuit further alleges. The complaint notes that police wound up "using vehicles occupied by civilians as shields and/or barricades" during the shootout.
The case seeks damages on behalf of the estate and Ordonez's two minor daughters.
A second plaintiff, Carlos Lara, joined the estate in filing the lawsuit. A bystander who was stranded in the shootout, Lara says his car was hit by a bullet, and that he was injured while trying to avoid the gunfire.
A third victim, 70-year-old Richard Cutshaw, was caught in the melée as he drove home from work and suffered a fatal gunshot wound. His family and estate are not parties to this case.
"We hope the defendant police departments will release copies of their body-worn camera footage and patrol-car radio transmissions," the plaintiffs' attorneys said in a statement yesterday. "The Ordonez and Lara families — and the public — have the right to know what happened and how law enforcement reacted on this tragic day."
Two of the police departments denied involvement in the shootout when reached by New Times.
"The pursuit traveled through Doral. We had officers in the area, but none of them discharged their weapons," a spokesperson for the Doral Police Department said.
The Broward Sheriff's Office said it provided aerial medical transportation for an injured patient but played no role in the deadly confrontation. According to a BSO spokesperson, the lawsuit "incorrectly assert[s] that the Broward Sheriff’s Office participated in the pursuit and apprehension of the suspects."
The Miami-Dade Police Department and Miramar Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Florida Highway Patrol did not respond to a request for a statement. Pembroke Pines' police media relations-department directed inquiries to the FDLE and FBI.
The chase, which played out on live TV, began after Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill robbed a Coral Gables jewelry store at gunpoint the afternoon of December 5, 2019. A store employee was purportedly injured by ricocheted gunfire during the robbery.
The thieves proceeded to hijack Ordonez's UPS truck, leading police on the hours-long chase through Miami-Dade and Broward counties. At least one of the robbers shot at officers prior to the final confrontation, according to an early Miami Herald report.
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"It was a very difficult situation [police] were facing. They tried the best they could and showed incredible courage," then-Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said of his officers in the aftermath of the tragedy, according to a subsequent Herald report.
The FDLE says fifteen officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department, three from the Miramar Police Department, one officer from Pembroke Pines, and one agent from the Florida Highway Patrol discharged their weapons.
Lara and the Ordonez estate are represented by lawyers Michael Haggard and Adam Finkel. The attorneys claim police could have avoided a violent end to the chase by keeping their distance from the hijacked truck and establishing a line of communication with the kidnappers.
"What happened that day should never have occurred," the attorneys said in their statement.