In 2014, New Times writer Terrence McCoy found 15 Miami men who'd been accused of murder on the A&E TV show the First 48 — and later walked free because they'd been wrongfully accused. Taiwan Smart was one of those men: In 2009, Smart contacted the City of Miami Police Department to say two of his friends had been gunned down — but, with A&E cameras rolling, MPD officers became convinced it was Smart who had shot his friends to death in Little Haiti. He was jailed for 19 months.
In fact, Smart committed no crime. And now, after roughly five years of legal infighting, the City of Miami is poised to hand Smart a whopping $1.3 million legal settlement for his ordeal. The city commission is slated to approve the gigantic award at its next meeting on December 13.
The legal award is something of an about-face for the city: In 2016, a civil jury ruled that Miami owed Smart $860,000 for falsely imprisoning him. But the city appealed and the case dragged on. According to court filings, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit upheld most of Smart's claims, including that he was falsely imprisoned and his civil rights were violated when a camera crew filmed him in handcuffs and during his interrogation. The Eleventh Circuit did, however, order a new trial regarding allegations that the city and TV crew illegally filmed the murder scene. The new trial was set for March 4, 2019.
In the meantime, Smart's lawyers (who did not respond to messages from New Times yesterday) have filed paperwork demanding the city pay out the full $708,000 that two judicial circuits have said the city owes Smart. In November, Smart's attorney filed a motion accusing the city of wrongfully paying out half of the award amount. Smart's lawyers demanded the city pay up in full or be held in contempt of court. Smart says the city still owes him about $300,000.
"The City is a bad actor that needs to have decisive action taken against it," Smart's attorney, Joseph Klock, wrote in a November 20 court filing. "It has seriously wounded [Smart] and only remains militantly irresponsible and callously insensitive to what it has done. [Smart] has waited over nine years for justice. He now has received only part of what has been affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit and awaits counsel fees and costs to be awarded."
Miami has not yet responded to that filing in court. But it appears the city is finally settling the case for good and preparing to award Smart a full $1.3 million before the March 2019 trial occurs. City Attorney Victoria Mendez told New Times that the settlement covers costs for both of Smart's lawsuits. It's still unclear why the city ultimately decided to settle the case after years of fighting Smart's legal team.
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"The settlement addresses attorney fees and costs for the prior trial, post-trial proceedings and the appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal," Mendez said via email. "It also resolves all issues relating to a retrial set for March on the reversed federal claim. Finally, it resolves all pending disputes regarding the payment of state law claims."
But it is clear the city harmed Smart. Judges in the Eleventh Circuit affirmed many details that New Times first reported years ago: among them, that City of Miami cops lied in order to charge Smart, and that A&E ate up the footage and broadcast it to thousands of cable subscribers. MPD cops, for example, interrogated Smart with A&E cameras rolling — only to habitually misrepresent and outright lie about basic things Smart said. Cops even said Smart claimed to have witnessed the murders. He didn't.
When New Times first spoke to Smart in 2014, the wrongfully accused man said he wasn't worried about money; he simply wanted the ability to live like a normal person again. He referred to one of the investigators who worked on his case, Miami Detective Fabio Sanchez.
"I can't even think about money," Smart told New Times. "I just want my life back. When I was in that interrogation, I remember asking Sanchez if it would have been better off if I'd been killed too. And he said, 'Yes, it would have been better if you'd been killed too.' I just don't want to feel that way anymore. I want my life back."