In July 2019, a Doral Police Department sergeant told his squad to report to the Miami-Dade Public Safety Training Institute for an impromptu training session. Officers were instructed to leave their weapons in the trunks of their cars, and they were given dummy training guns upon arrival.
Sgt. Eric Fernandez planned to teach "entry tactics and room search training" — basically, how to search a room for potential threats without getting shot. But during one of the drills, the sergeant was shot in the chest by Officer Edward Portal, who had been permitted to stay armed with his department-issued Glock "in the event a situation was to present itself where police action became imminent," according to a recent interoffice memo from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.
"Fuck, you shot me!" Fernandez responded after the bullet pierced his chest, according to one witness.
The close-out memo, which was signed by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle on June 15 and posted online June 25, clears Portal and concludes that the shooting was accidental "with no intent of harm." No criminal charges will be filed against the officer, the report says.
The State Attorney's Office says Fernandez asked Portal to help him conduct the July 26, 2019, training session. The memo notes that Fernandez is a field training officer and certified instructor for the police department, but Portal was not.
Two of the police department's squads received the training. The first squad's session went off without a hitch; Fernandez was shot during drills with the second group.
Officers from both squads gave sworn statements saying that Fernandez and Portal both had their weapons during the training. Some officers expressed discomfort with them being armed during the training, the report says.
While teaching a technique called "the buttonhook," wherein officers step around the opening of a doorjamb, Portal took on the role of an "unknown" person in the room while Fernandez played the role of an officer. Fernandez asked to borrow another officer's training gun for the drill.
"When Fernandez entered the room to be searched, a gunshot was heard," the State Attorney's Office report states.
The Miami Herald reported that the bullet pierced Fernandez's lung, broke some of his bones, and narrowly missed his heart.
According to the State Attorney's Office memo, most trainees focused on helping Fernandez, but two others noted that Portal was "visibly distraught." Portal was told to sit at a picnic table on the east side of the training facility and to not speak to anyone about what happened.
Fernandez was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital in serious condition and released three days later.
We are happy to report that Sgt. Eric Fernandez was released from the hospital this morning and is now at home resting. We thank all those who kept Eric and his family in their prayers. #doralproud #doralpolice pic.twitter.com/R4G1iElsPU— Doral Police Dept. (@DoralPolice) June 29, 2019
For the most part, the seven-page memo from prosecutors uses passive language — it does not say, for example, who instructed Portal not to speak to anyone immediately after the shooting.
Likewise, prosecutors do not provide a detailed account of how or why Portal shot Fernandez. The closest thing to an explanation is a sentence at the end of the report, stating that Portal "was in the middle of a role-playing scenario when he discharged his firearm apparently believing it was a training gun which is incapable of harming anyone."
Investigators say they got little information from Portal and Fernandez, although the report notes that statements from other officers at the training session were generally consistent, "with some minor exceptions."
Fernandez was interviewed twice by Miami-Dade Police Department detectives. During the first interview, conducted at the hospital, the sergeant denied knowing who shot him. During the second interview a few days later, Fernandez "indicated he learned Portal was the shooter, but he did not see him shoot."
"Fernandez was unable to explain and did not recall why or what Portal was doing in the room where the training exercise was occurring as he was 'not actively participating in the training exercises,'" the report says.
Fernandez later conceded he allowed Portal to remain armed during the training because Portal was supposed to be "a set of eyes" for the sergeant. The report says Fernandez denied being armed during the training.
Portal, who was represented by an attorney from the Police Benevolent Association union, declined to provide a statement for State Attorney's Office investigators.
In explaining their rationale for not pressing charges, prosecutors noted that Portal was "extremely remorseful" and that he remained on good terms with Fernandez after the shooting.
"There was no evidence uncovered of any ill will between Fernandez and Portal. To the contrary, it was learned that Fernandez and Portal are good friends and remain good friends even after this incident," the close-out memo states.
Rey Valdes, a spokesperson for the Doral Police Department, tells New Times the department received the memo earlier this week. Now that the State Attorney's Office investigation is over, Valdes says, the police department will do its own internal investigation to figure out whether any departmental policies were violated.
According to Valdes, Fernandez and Portal remain employed by the police department.
A copy of the close-out memo is embedded below:
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