MIAMI (AP) — Two Miami police officers will not face charges after fatally shooting a man who wielded a box cutter during a 2009 traffic stop.
But the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office stopped short of saying the officers were justified in using deadly force. The Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/1ioddgJ) reports that prosecutors say the details of the incident remain unclear because the officers refused to give statements to investigators.
The decision was detailed in a batch of memos on police shooting cases released last week.
On Nov. 14, 2009, Miami officers Omar Ayala and George Diaz pulled over Corey McNeal in Allapattah. Prosecutors believe the officers were patting McNeal down when he began to resist violently, forcing Ayala to the ground. The officers then shot the man 27 times.
Detectives found McNeal lying on the ground with a box cutter near his right hand and a wad of cash clutched in his left. Ayala's shirt was untucked and missing a button. He had a cut on his lip and a scrape on his elbow.
According to a prosecutor's memo, the trajectory of many of the bullets was upward, as though McNeal were standing over Ayala, "very possibly with a box cutter in his hand."
Javier Ortiz, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, said the shooting was a clear case of self-defense.
But prosecutors say key details are missing because the officers did not cooperate with the investigation. The officers did not relay any information via radio in the moments before the shooting and it remains unclear why they chose to pull McNeal over.
"We cannot justify unknown acts," prosecutor David I. Gilbert wrote in a memo.
Police told investigators that McNeal had been arrested for allegedly battering his uncle two months before the shooting. According to the prosecutor's memo, an officer said McNeal told him "it would take more than handcuffs to arrest him the next time the police had a problem with him, they would have to put bullets in him."
McNeal's roommate told police the 35-year-old man had grown paranoid and tired of police "bothering him" after an unrelated shooting in 2006. In that incident, he was shot in the head and refused to let doctors remove the bullet, leading to a "personality change," the roommate said.
An autopsy report revealed McNeal had cocaine in his system the night of the fatal shooting.
In Miami-Dade, prosecutors review every police shooting to see if an officer broke state law in firing a weapon. In Florida, on-duty officers are generally given wide leeway in using deadly force to protect themselves or others — and prosecutors virtually never charge cops for manslaughter or murder.
The lack of cooperation of officers involved in shootings is often cited as a reason for the delay in closing such cases.