News: Urban Beach Weekend: The City Speaks

By John Zur

In the wake of the early morning shooting Memorial Day morning, that left Raymond Herisse dead, the City of Miami Beach is faced with a litany of difficult questions to answer regarding “Urban Beach Weekend.” And with the release of a second amateur video, which depicts the police-involved shooting, followed by a scattering bystanders, and a police officer pointing a gun at a witness, the Miami Beach Police Department has finally broken their silence.

In the video sold to CNN, taken by the camera on the phone of Narces Benoit, an officer is seen approaching his truck and pointing a gun directly at him, giving an indecipherable command, and then backing away. Another officer orders Benoit to stop filming and to get out of the truck. The video ends there.

Benoit claims that the officer pointed a gun to his head before taking the phone and smashing it. Benoit was able to salvage the footage by getting the memory out of the phone before it was confiscated, and holding it in his mouth even while being interviewed by police.

The first amateur video of the incident was posted on YouTube soon afterward, and shows the shooting from a high position overlooking the boulevard, where an erratically driven car comes to a stop at an intersection. Bystanders scatter as officers surround the car with drawn guns. Then police fired on the vehicle.

In Benoit’s video, it looks like there are muzzle flashes from the pistols of as many as a dozen officers. Herisse was killed and four bystanders were injured by gunfire, according to Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega.

Benoit and girlfriend Ericka Davis were shocked that police fired as many shots as they did in the presence of numerous bystanders, where the incident occurred on the corner of 13th Street and Collins Avenue. “We could have been killed,” said Davis. “They were shooting so long, you could hear their guns clicking on empty, but they kept pulling the trigger,” she said. “I think that’s excessive.”

In an editorial published on June 4, 2011 in the Miami Herald, Miami Beach Mayor Matti Hererra Bower addressed the effects of the police-involved shooting in a piece titled, “A Defining Moment for Miami Beach.” Here is the editorial in its entirety:

“Since the unfortunate incidents that occurred last weekend, many residents have reached out to me with concern, anger, and lots of questions. I live right in the heart of South Beach myself and experience the traffic, the noise and other aggravations of having more than 200,000 people descend on a small area of our city over a few days every year. I share their frustration and anger.

“I, too, am frustrated by those relatively few individuals that come to our city, not to have a good time, but to behave in unacceptable ways.

“I am equally frustrated by suggestions that any attempt to address these legitimate issues are motivated by anything other than our desire to ensure that we continue not only to be a first-class tourist destination, but also a first-class city for our residents. Ironically, Miami Beach has been accused of being both too aggressive and not aggressive enough, depending on the year and the point of view.

“This is not an issue about the city’s planning. We implement a robust plan developed over many years’ experience to manage the anticipated crowds. This is an issue about how to manage a situation that, in the words of many individuals who have spoken to me, appears to take the city and its residents “hostage” for this weekend. That is simply not acceptable.

“This is an issue of capacity — too many visitors coming to our city at one time into one small area, further complicated by a portion of the group that chooses to behave inappropriately and take advantage of our city’s hospitality.

“I believe we need to do more to address the legitimate concerns of residents. I have asked city staff and our legal team to develop a list of options of what we can do to address the issues that are causing these problems. This includes options I have suggested, like restricting the hours of liquor sales. I expect a menu of options for me and the City Commission to consider. This is no different than what we did this year during Spring Break to address the many problems we had last year when thousands of young people came to our city and caused similar problems. Trust me, we get complaints from residents anytime there are thousands of young revelers in the streets and on the beaches.

“Clearly we need to do more, and we will.

“However, it is important for everyone to understand what this weekend is and the city’s role in managing a nearly overwhelming influx of visitors over a few short days. It is not an “event” produced by the city. It is the result of years of independent promotions on radio, the Internet, and other media, urging a largely young, urban crowd to come to Miami Beach for a fun party weekend. This weekend is not a single event produced by one entity that can be held accountable for the behavior of its patrons. Over the years, more promoters and venues throughout the region have created concerts and events to capture the crowd that’s coming. The city can’t legally stop these events from occurring on private property as long as all the rules are followed.

“What we can do is prohibit any events on public property — and that is exactly what we do.

I’m not going to justify the actions of the several hundred people we had to arrest this year or in the past. Those are people we don’t welcome. Our city is not a free-for-all zone. We can and will find ways to keep wrong-doers from returning to our city and to send a message that such behavior is not tolerated.

“But we are not going to roll up the bridges once a year. We are not going to tell people we don’t want them here because we can’t tell who’s good and who has bad intentions. That is not who we are as a community. We are going to continue to take the harder path and make the finer distinctions.

And in response to media inquiries about the video footage provided by Benoit, the City of Miami Beach Police Department issued a statement:

“The Miami Beach Police Department continues to work with the State Attorney’s office as we investigate the shooting that occurred this past Memorial Day. In the course of the investigation, we received reports alleging that police officers confiscated a phone from a civilian bystander in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Video shot from that phone has been sold to a news outlet, and the individual that took the video (Narces Benoit) has provided statements to the media that allege that officers damaged his private property.

“As can be noted in the video, Mr. Benoit had exited his vehicle and approached the incident scene and was observed quickly walking toward his vehicle immediately after the shooting. Because Mr. Benoit matched the description of one of the subjects just reported fleeing the scene and, further, because he ignored repeated commands as he quickly walked towards and entered his vehicle, he was detained by officers.

“During the course of the investigation, Mr. Benoit was brought to the station as a witness to the incident. In a recorded statement, the investigating detective informed Mr. Benoit that his cell phone was being seized as investigative evidence and would be returned to him at a later date. Mr. Benoit signed and was provided with a copy of the Miami Beach Property Receipt…” A copy of the property receipt was offered.

The statement continues. “Any and all video of the incident is crucial to the investigation, and it is not unusual for police to secure any video that may have evidentiary value. Several other phones were also secured during the course of the investigation.

“Contrary to Mr. Benoit’s statements to the media, the cell phone turned over to the Miami Beach Police Department is in working order; the only damage observed to the cell phone is to the lower right portion of the LCD screen and it is unknown when this damage occurred. This damage does not appear consistent with Mr. Benoit’s statements to the media that his phone was “smashed.”

“Please refer to attached photos of the front and rear of the phone.  Additionally, investigators were not aware – nor did Mr. Benoit ever indicate – that he had removed the SIM card from his phone prior to surrendering it to investigators. This video was subsequently provided to the department only after a subpoena was obtained and issued.

“Needless-to-say, there are heightened tensions following any shooting incident. As is evident in Mr. Benoit’s video, in the minutes immediately following the incident police officers can be observed working to secure the scene and identify potential witnesses, and – more importantly – any possible, additional suspects.”

The mayor doesn’t have clear-cut solutions. The police department is trying to save face following an act of aggression, by one of their officers, that was caught on camera. Tensions are rising, the questions keep piling on, and each day brings more clouds of uncertainty for the City of Miami Beach.

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