Police

Prosecutors Clear Miami Cops Who Chased Stolen Car Before Fatal Crash

The officers have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
The officers have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. Photo by Miami Police Department
click to enlarge The officers have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. - PHOTO BY MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT
The officers have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
Photo by Miami Police Department
Miami police officers who'd been chasing after a stolen Mustang shortly before it crashed into another vehicle last spring, killing a 23-year-old woman, will not face any criminal charges.

In a close-out memo from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office — dated February 23 and recently obtained by New Times — prosecutors said the available surveillance footage did not show any officers directly behind the Mustang when it crashed into the other vehicle, leading to the death of Ciarah Ramirez.

"There is insufficient evidence to prove that the conduct of the officers caused the death of Ciarah Ramirez," the memo states.

The crash occurred around 9:30 p.m. on May 5, 2020, at the intersection of North Miami Avenue and NW 36th Street. Ramirez was ejected from the Subaru in which she was a passenger; her husband and his friend, who were also in the car, were injured but survived the crash. The driver of the Mustang, which had been reported stolen from a home in Little Haiti, fled the scene on foot, as did his passenger.


A week after the crash, while investigators got to work trying to hunt down the hit-and-run driver, the Miami Police Department (MPD) suspended six agency members connected to the incident: Officers Isaac Hernandez, Christopher Pujadas, Felix Piloto, Jonathan Ruano, Leandro Abad, and Sgt. Hugo Vaguez.

An MPD official confirmed to the Miami Herald that police had been pursuing the Mustang some time before the crash and that the department was investigating whether the officers broke any policies in doing so. MPD policy states that officers may only chase people suspected of committing a violent crime, and only if the vehicle pursuit does not jeopardize the safety of others on the road.

After a three-month traffic-homicide investigation, the MPD in August arrested 21-year-old Dalton McKenzie, identifying him as the driver of the Mustang after his DNA was found on an airbag that deployed after the collision. On February 17, he pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash with death. McKenzie was sentenced to six years in prison, to be followed by two years of house arrest and six years of probation.

Days after McKenzie's plea, prosecutors with the State Attorney's Office authored the close-out memo clearing the Miami police officers of any criminal wrongdoing. Assistant State Attorney Laura Adams wrote that "all evidence available indicates that Ms. Ramirez was killed due to the decision of the defendant Dalton McKenzie to drive at a high rate of speed and to go through the red light at NW 36th Street."

“Thus, there is no basis to file criminal traffic charges against any officer who may have been pursuing the Mustang prior to this fatal collision," Adams concluded.

For now, it's unclear if the MPD has finished with its internal investigation into whether the officers broke departmental policy. A police spokesperson was unable to immediately provide more information about the internal investigation yesterday but confirmed that five of the officers who had been suspended are back on active duty. The sixth, Officer Christopher Pujadas, is on military leave.

New Times
will update this post once more information becomes available regarding the internal investigation. A copy of the memo from the State Attorney's Office is embedded below.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jessica Lipscomb is news editor of Miami New Times and an enthusiastic Florida Woman. Born and raised in Orlando, she has been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
Contact: Jessica Lipscomb