Miami Beach Police Officer Serving Time for Pot Cleared in 2009 Shooting of Tourist

March 16, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

Back in 2009, a police-involved shooting in Miami Beach caught my eye as a Miami-Dade criminal defense attorney. Husien Shehada of the Washington, DC area was shot late at night on Washington Avenue by Miami Beach officers who said they thought he was pulling a weapon; investigation later turned up nothing but a beer bottle in the waistband of his pants. Now, as the Miami New Times Riptide 2.0 blog reported March 9, an investigation has cleared the officer who pulled the trigger, Adam Tavss. Prosecutors say Tavss was justified in shooting because Shehada didn’t obey instructions to raise his hands. Shehada’s brother, Samer Shehada, was present at the time of the shooting and says his brother made no threatening moves and didn’t touch the bottle.

Samer Shehada said he and his brother had a fight with their girlfriends, so they went out to buy some cigarettes. A bouncer on the street called police to report that the men were armed, and when police found them, they yelled at them to put their hands up. The prosecutors’ report says another officer saw Husien Shehada reaching for the beer bottle in his pants. Based on that, he later said Tavss could have believed Shehada was reaching for a weapon. A surveillance video showing the Shehadas from behind does not show either making sudden or aggressive moves, and no other officers at the scene reacted this way. The family is planning a lawsuit against the police department.

Tavss is no longer with the Miami Beach Police Department, but not because of Shehada’s shooting. Four days after Shehada’s shooting and just hours after passing a related psychiatric evaluation, Tavss also shot and killed a homeless man named Lawrence McCoy Jr., saying McCoy had a weapon. No weapon was found. After that shooting, Tavss tested positive for marijuana, which led to his resignation from the police force. Months later, Tavss was found running a marijuana grow house in his apartment. He is currently serving a two-year sentence of house arrest and is barred from working as a police officer.

As a south Florida assault criminal defense lawyer, I suspect that a civilian accused of the same behavior would be unlikely to get the same treatment. Self-defense is certainly a defense against charges of armed assault and battery (likely a felony), but the courts generally need defendants to demonstrate a reasonable belief that their lives were in danger. In this case, the Shehada family and others dispute the reasonableness of Tavss’s belief that he was in danger. (However, it’s important to realize that Tavss didn’t end up before a jury, as a civilian likely would — his actions were evaluated by the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office.) To get this kind of outcome in a case involving felony charges, you should mount the strongest defense they can — and that typically means hiring a Fort Lauderdale battery criminal defense attorney as early as possible in the case.

If you’re facing serious criminal charges and you’re not lucky enough to have police connections, you should call Seltzer Law, P.A., right away for a free, confidential consultation. We’re available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, because we know arrests and legal complications don’t just happen during business hours. To reach us today, call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email today.