Police Shootings and Alleged Civil Rights Violations Mar Urban Beach Weekend

June 1, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a south Florida assault criminal defense lawyer, I was interested to read about the police shootings and controversy surrounding Urban Beach Weekend in Miami Beach. As the Miami Herald reported May 30, two separate officer-involved shootings took place very early on that day, leaving one suspect dead and three officers and four bystanders wounded. None of the people involved were named in the Herald story, but the three officers were expected to recover. The driver in the second incident has been arrested on unspecified charges. Witnesses also accused police officers, who came from several south Florida departments to handle the crowd, of grabbing and destroying cell phones being used to videotape the incidents.

In the first incident, a driver identified as 22-year-old Raymond Herisse struck a police officer with his car just before 4 a.m. Instead of stopping, Herisse sped away; Miami Beach police chief Carlos Noriega said Herisse was intentionally trying to hit officers, hitting parked cars and forcing officers and pedestrians to jump out of the way. Some reports said the driver was firing from the car, but officers found no gun when they opened the car, and reports say no one else was inside the car. A total of 12 officers did shoot more than 100 bullets at the car, including shots fired from a semicircle of officers after it stopped, which eventually killed Herisse. All seven of the wounded officers and bystanders were hurt during this incident, and Noriega acknowledged that the police bullets may have been responsible. A witness told reporters that a police bullet hit her friend. A witness captured some of the incident from a roof:

In the second incident, a driver violated the police roadblocks set up after the first shooting and drove toward several officers who were on foot. The officers fired into the car, which crashed into a police car parked at the side of the road. No one was injured, fortunately. However, a witness to the first incident told CBS 12 that police grabbed and destroyed his phone after seeing him filming the first incident. Narces Benoit of Palm Beach County said he was taping the first shooting when an officer ran up to him and wordlessly grabbed his head and smashed him to the ground. He said the officer stepped on his back, threw the phone on the ground and stepped on it, “cussing me out the whole time.” Benoit said police took several other phones with cameras from witnesses on the street, and that he plans to file a complaint.

From the facts presented in these articles, it’s difficult to say whether police acted appropriately with the original driver. However, as a Miami-Dade resisting arrest criminal defense attorney, I agree with the ACLU that there should be an independent investigation into this and any other officer-involved shooting. Urban Beach Weekend has a troubled history, though it’s also had calm years, and it’s not hard to imagine officers overreacting to perceived threats. That seems especially likely in the second incident, when officers would have been still upset from the last one. Even a driver who had accidentally gotten into the “secured” area could be perceived as a threat by officers on foot who were tired and on alert. However, the officers’ choice to seize and destroy the camera phones of witnesses seems like a pretty clear violation of their rights to speech and property. As a Fort Lauderdale disorderly conduct criminal defense lawyer, I would caution people involved in this incident to get experienced legal help immediately, because officers may find bogus charges to file against them if they feel it helps cover for official misconduct.

If you’re charged with resisting an officer, disorderly conduct or other weak charges suggesting the officers just didn’t like you, you don’t have to put up with it. Call Seltzer Law, P.A., to discuss your rights and your legal options. For a free, confidential case evaluation, call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email today.