Justice Department Investigates Miami Police Shootings

The Justice Department is opening an investigation into the Miami’s Police Department and its policies concerning the use of deadly force after eight young men have been killed by department officers since July 2010. 

The investigation, known as a “pattern and practice” investigation, is being launched by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to examine the police shootings that, in two cases, involved unarmed individuals.

“In the past 16 months, we have seen nine police-involved shootings that are of concern and are the premise of our investigation,” said Tom Perez the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for civil rights.   “Since July 2010, MPD officers shot and killed eight young men and critically wounded a ninth man.  By comparison, the country’s largest police force, the New York City Police Department had one fatal shooting for every 4,313 officers in 2010, while Miami had one fatal shooting for every 220 officers.”

The Justice Department had been reviewing the shootings in a preliminary investigation after the last shooting occurred in February of this year, but has decided to launch a full investigation to determine if federal laws have been violated.

The chief of the department, Miguel Exposito, was fired in September after a disagreement with city leaders over staffing issues.

“Of the shootings since July 2010 until the last shooting in February 2011, all but one occurred within the proximate neighborhoods of Little Haiti, Overtown and Liberty City, in northeast Miami.” Perez said in prepared remarks. “In two of the shootings, the subject was unarmed.  Six out of the eight fatal shootings were by MPD officers in specialized units like the gang unit, SWAT, tactical robbery unit and the canine unit.”

The investigation will involve Justice Department officials from Washington and investigators from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami working with law enforcement experts to review the police department’s policies. The investigators will review documents and conduct extensive interviews with officers and staff.

The Justice Department is expected to notify the Miami Police Department of any changes that should be made in real time as the review proceeds.

“At the conclusion of our investigation, U.S. Attorney [Wifredo] Ferrer and I will release a thorough assessment of our findings, and if we conclude there are violations of the Constitution or federal law, we will inform the city of Miami and attempt to work with their leadership to remedy any violations.” Perez said.