The three Miami-Dade police detectives who pulled up behind Alexis Suarez after he had parked in front of his home last week, blocking his car in, were not wearing uniforms nor did they appear to be wearing badges around their necks, according to sources familiar with the incident.
And they were not driving a marked patrol car as they hopped out with their guns drawn, driving instead a black pick-up truck that did not look anything remotely like a police car.
Police say Suarez, a security guard with a concealed weapons permit, pulled out his own gun, which is when they shot him dead.
But his relatives don’t believe he pulled out his gun and if he did, it was because he feared he was being robbed at gunpoint.
Meanwhile, Suarez’s stepdaughter, Liliana Marti, heard the shots, dialed 911 and ran outside with her cell phone, turning it on to record the three plainclothes cops with their guns still trained on Suarez’s car.
One of the cops noticed and chased her into the apartment, snatching the phone from her hand against her will.
The cops then had her sign a document saying she voluntarily handed the phone over.
Already traumatized from her step-father’s shooting death and unfamiliar with the language and the laws in this country, having arrived from Cuban just four years ago, Marti signed the paper believing she had no choice.
But she did have a choice because police can only confiscate a camera if they had a subpoena or if they are acting under exigent circumstances, believing the evidence will be destroyed.
But now the fear is that they will destroy the evidence, which anybody familiar with this blog knows, they have no problem doing.
The family has already retained a lawyer whom I spoke to briefly on Saturday, who said he is meeting with the Miami-Dade Police Department on Monday in an attempt to get the phone back, hopefully with the video intact.
“We believe it was improperly seized,” said Nelson Rodriguez-Varela.
I drove by the family’s home on Saturday, but they would not talk on the record under the advisement of their lawyer.
And although the incident was covered by all the local news stations and newspaper, only one station, CBS Miami, has made an issue about the confiscated phone.
“I was able to film some of it with my phone, but they took it away,” Marti said Tuesday night. “I filmed the three policemen [still] aiming at my stepdad’s car.”
When one of the detectives spotted Marti shooting video with her cell, she says he pursued her into the family’s apartment.
“A detective saw me with the phone, and he grabbed it down, and told me I was not allowed to film, and he took it away,” she said.
An attorney representing the dead man’s family said police forcibly took the phone from the young woman.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said Friday that detectives violated the law in entering the home – where no crime was suspected of being committed – and by seizing Marti’s cell phone.
“Photography is not a crime,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU. “It is perfectly within people’s rights to take pictures of what officers are doing out on the street, and certainly when they enter your own home.”
Other stations are taking a very pro-police approach to the incident, describing Suarez as an “armed suspect” who was “wanted for a crime at Miami International Airport,” where he worked as an armed security guard.
The Miami Herald hasn’t produced a follow-up to its initial article where they buried the part about the confiscated phone in the 16th paragraph.
Last year after shooting a man to death, Miami Beach police officers seized at least two cameras, including one from a man who recorded the shooting and another from a news videographer who was trying to report on the story.
That incident became a national embarrassment to the Miami Beach Police Department, who ended up working with the National Press Photographers Association in drafting a set of guidelines on how police should deal with citizens with cameras.
Miami-Dade Police, who are in full spin mode, have not released many details about the incident at the airport that lead to the shooting but Suarez apparently had some type of confrontation that sent another employee to the hospital, so the cops were going to arrest him for aggravated battery, which is not the type of crime for a man would be willing go down fighting in a hail of bullets, considering it would most likely not result in a jail sentence.
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It will take further investigation from all ends to determine whether police were justified in the shooting.
But it doesn’t take nearly that long to realize police acted unlawfully in seizing Marti’s phone.
What is needed now is for the local media to hammer away at this issue, forcing the truth to come out instead of just acting as a soundboard for the Miami-Dade Police Department’s media relations bureau.
But sometimes those habits are tough to break.