– Witnesses said they were forced to hide video after Beach shooting (Miami Herald, June 2, 2011):
A West Palm Beach couple who filmed Monday morning’s deadly officer-involved shooting on South Beach has accused officers of intimidation, destroying evidence and twisting the facts in the chaos surrounding the Memorial Day shootings – a charge that police officials say they know nothing about.
Meanwhile, a South Carolina man charged with DUI in a second officer-involved shooting that morning says he is innocent.
On Thursday, The Miami Herald spoke to the couple that saw the end of the 4 a.m. police chase on Collins Avenue, then watched and filmed from just a few feet away as a dozen officers fired their guns repeatedly into Raymond Herisse’s blue Hyundai. They say the only reason they were able to show the video to a reporter is because they hid a memory card after police allegedly pointed guns at their heads, threw them to the ground and smashed the cell phone that took the video.
The three-minute video captured on Narces Benoit’s HTC EVO phone begins as officers crowd around the east side of Herisse’s car with guns drawn. Roughly 15 seconds into the video, officers open fire.
Benoit filmed the incident from the sidewalk on the northeast corner of 13th Street and Collins Avenue, close enough to see some officers’ faces and individual muzzle flashes.
Shortly after the gunfire ends, an officer points at Benoit and police can be heard yelling for him to turn off the camera. The voices are muffled at times. The 35-year-old car stereo technician drops his hand with the camera and hurries back to his Ford Expedition parked further east on 13th Street.
The video shows Benoit get into the car, where his girlfriend, Ericka Davis, sat in the driver’s seat. He raises his camera and an officer is seen appearing on the driver’s side with his gun drawn, pointed at them.
The video ends as more officers are heard yelling expletives, telling the couple to turn the video off and get out of the car.
“They put guns to our heads and threw us on the ground,” Davis said.
Benoit said a Miami Beach officer grabbed his cell phone, said “You want to be [expletive] Paparazzi?” and stomped on his phone before placing him in handcuffs and shoving the crunched phone in Benoit’s back pocket. He said the couple joined other witnesses already in cuffs and being watched by officers, who were on the lookout for two passengers who, police believe at the time, had bailed out of Herisse’s car. It is still not known whether any passengers were in the car.
Four bystanders were shot in the gunfire and three officers suffered minor injuries.
Benoit and Davis said officers smashed several other cell phones in the ensuing chaos.
Benoit said the officers eventually uncuffed him after gunshots rang out elsewhere and he discreetly removed the SIM card and placed it in his mouth.
Officers again took his phone, demanding his video. He said they took him to a nearby mobile command center, snapped a picture of him, then took him to police headquarters and conducted a recorded interview while he kept the SIM card in his mouth. He insisted his phone was broken.
He was given a copy of a police property record receipt dated May 30. The couple has hired an attorney.
“We just want the right thing to be done,” Davis said. “That was just too much.”
Police Chief Carlos Noriega said the couple’s allegations were the first he’d heard of officers allegedly threatening people or destroying cameras or cell phones. If Benoit made a complaint, Internal Affairs would investigate, the chief said.
The scenes from the couple’s video that a reporter described to Noriega reflect the tension officers went through early Monday morning as they tried to get a handle on the pandemonium..
“I was there during the second shooting and it was quite a chaotic scene,” he said. “We were trying to figure out who was who and it was a difficult process. Not once did I see cameras being taken or smashed.”
He also said “a lot of our officers had their guns drawn, including myself.”
Noriega also noted that Benoit’s video is evidence and that it could help investigators.
But, Benoit said he is considering an offer from a website to sell the video.
Police say the chase Benoit and Davis saw began around 16th Street after Herisse hit a Hialeah officer with his car during a traffic stop and then peeled off down Collins Avenue, hitting or nearly hitting four other officers before skidding to a stop amid gunfire near 13th Street.
Police say they received reports that Herisse was shooting from his car, and on Wednesday they found a black Berretta 92-F semiautomatic pistol in his Hyundai.
Police also learned Thursday that he is believed to be the gunman in a November armed robbery at a BP gas station in which a clerk was shot in the face. Police say the clerk identified Herisse in a photo lineup after detectives recognized the slain 22-year-old in The Miami Herald.
Ballistics tests will be needed to prove that Herisse indeed shot the gun, and could take weeks.
But Benoit and Davis said that while they saw “bullets flying everywhere” as Herisse drove south for two blocks, the only ones they saw doing any shooting were police.
The couple was able to film the shooting because they were slowly driving north on Collins Avenue near 13th Street when gunshots rang out. They reversed east down 13th Street to get away from Herisse’s oncoming Hyundai.
“They were shooting at him the whole time,” Benoit said.
Also on Thursday, police released an arrest affidavit for Carlos King, 45, who allegedly drove his 2007 Mercedes Benz in a drunken stupor into a police perimeter on Washington Avenue, leading an officer to shoot at him before crashing into an empty squad car.
No one was injured.
Police say King, a 17-year-veteran and fire captain with the North Charleston Fire Department, smelled like alcohol and admitted to drinking and crashing after swerving around a car he thought was travelling too slow.
King’s lawyer, Saam Zangeneh, said his client wasn’t guilty of charges of driving under the influence and refusing to take a breathalyzer. He said he expected further probing by himself and others would portray “a more accurate depiction of what transpired that night.”
King said he was shocked by police actions.
“The way these police act is crazy,” he said.