A Miami police officer killed a homeless man, shooting him five times Thursday outside a public library for failing to drop a stick he was holding. The shooting was witnessed by 40 to 60 people, many of whom were children attending a YMCA summer camp taking place at the park nearby.
A worker at Gibson Park in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami had reportedly called police on Fritz Severe, a 46-year-old vagrant man, around 10 a.m. because a he was brandishing a metal stick, saying they were concerned about the safety of the children.
Antonio Torres, 41, a 20-year police veteran, responded to the call with a rookie he was training and confronted Severe, ordering him to drop the object.
Police allege he did not comply and that is when one of the officers opened fire. Severe was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he died from the injuries. Neither of the officers were wearing body cameras.
“The officer confronted the subject and discharged his weapon,”Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes stated as he addressed the public. “There was more than one shot.”
Witnesses told CBS that the killing was witnessed by 50 children who began “hollering, screaming and running.”
One mother reported that her son and her grandson are both in the summer camp, so when she heard the news she immediately went to the park. When she arrived, she was not allowed to see either of the children and did not know if they had witnessed the incident.
A witness named Stephanie Severance told the station she was shocked when she realized the victim was a man whom she saw every morning, saying police “stopped the man, the man had the metal stick, pointed at him, the next thing you know the man shot him.”
“The man had a stick in his hand. They could have Tasered him. He was a homeless guy who’s there every morning,” another witness named Nichelle Miller told the Miami Herald. Miller explained that the man used the pipe to point at the officer, but did not swing it at him.
The death of Fritz was one of two officer involved shootings that took place in South Florida on Thursday. In Pompano Beach, a bank robbery suspect was in custody, but broke free. When the suspect allegedly reached for a weapon in his vehicle, he was fatally shot by an officer.
“The FOP is confident that when the independent investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is complete, it will find that our officer involved acted within the law,” Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement.
Officer Torres is on paid administrative leave while the department investigates itself.