The U.S. Department of Justice has found the City of Miami Police Department has engaged in a pattern of excessive force in police-involved shootings.
In a report released Tuesday, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division found that several police department practices, including "deficient tactics, improper actions by specialized units, as well as egregious delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations, contributed to the pattern or practice of excessive force."
The investigation began in November 2011 following the deaths of seven black men in officer-involved shootings. According to the Justice Department, between 2008 and 2011, officers shot at individuals on 33 separate occasions, three of which were found unjustified by Miami Police.
"At the time of the investigation in November, there were particular shootings in a very short time span that led individuals in the community concerned and that is what sparked the investigation," Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
About two years ago, Sheila McNeil's son Travis, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by a Miami Police officer. She said of Tuesday's report, "I was overjoyed. It was kind of a mixed emotion."
Though the findings came as little surprise to McNeil, they don't do much to lessen her pain.
“My child should not have died that night on a simple traffic stop. It was very much mishandled,” she said.
Manuel Orosa, the Miami Police chief, issued an email statement about the report.
"We are thankful to the D.O.J. for their acknowledgment, in writing, of a significant decrease in police-involved shootings in 2012. Success in this area comes as a result of reforms established under my direction," the statement said."The D.O.J.’s findings have reached us one year after the Miami Police Department’s efforts to address all concerns regarding the shootings via a comprehensive report to D.O.J. highlighting numerous corrective actions taken by Chief Manuel Orosa and his administration."
The Justice Department findings found that a small number of officers were involved in a disproportionate number of shootings, while the investigations into the shootings were "egregiously delayed."
The Miami Police Department didn't provide close supervision or hold officers accountable for their actions by failing to complete thorough, objective and timely investigations into the shootings.
It was the second such investigation into the department in recent years, following a 2002 probe that found similar deficiencies, the Justice Department noted.
The shootings that were looked at under the most recent probe happened under the leadership of former Chief Miguel Exposito, who was fired in September 2011 for insubordination. Exposito had said the shootings were justified, though some of the victims were found to be unarmed.
For a significant number of the shootings, including one that happened in 2008, the Miami Police Department hasn't reached a conclusion internally as to whether the shooting was lawful and within policy, the Justice Department said.
Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, commended the progress made by the department under Chief Manuel Orosa, who replaced Exposito in 2011.
"The Justice Department provided feedback to the Miami Police Department during the investigation and commends Chief Orosa for taking steps to address some of the deficiencies identified since the investigation began," Austin said during the conference call.
Austin said Orosa has made significant changes, including how specialized units within the department operate. He added that proper training needs to take place before the next shooting.
"Like all officers, Miami Police Department officers have difficult jobs. There are times when deadly force will have to be used but we have to make sure that officers know when to use it and how to use it properly," Austin said.
Austin said the probe was a civil pattern or practice investigation, which is different from a criminal investigation. Whether an individual officer violated the law is a separate determination that would be made by a separate unit of the Justice Department along with the U.S. Attorney's Office and local prosecutors.
The goal of the investigation will be to come to a court-enforceable agreement with the city and police department that will lay out changes in policies, procedures and training, Austin said.
"For a police department to be effective, its officers must have the trust of those whom they serve," Ferrer said. "It's my hope that the findings of this investigation, together with the city's and Chief Orosa's commitment, will help strengthen and invigorate the public's confidence in our police department."
"There is clearly a disconnect between the USDOJ and the reality of what our Miami Police Officers confront on a daily basis," Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, said in an email statement. "While there are many portions that we disagree with, the most troubling area of this report was the summary dealing with some shootings that the Miami Police Department found unjustified."