Prosecutors Clear Miami Police Officer in 2011 New Year's Shooting of Gun-Carrying Felon in Overtown

Officer Maurice Sodre "was legally justified" when he shot and killed Lynn Weatherspoon, prosecutors say

By Edward B. Colby
|  Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012  |  Updated 6:29 PM EDT
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Miami Cop Cleared in Overtown Shooting

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The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office says that Miami Police Officer Maurice Sodre “was legally justified in his use of force” when he shot and killed Lynn Weatherspoon in Overtown on New Year’s night in 2011 and that no criminal charges will be filed against him for the incident.

Sodre was part of two SWAT units that were on duty to respond to “special threat” situations on the New Year’s Eve leading into Jan. 1, 2011, in an operational plan that was put into place to deal with residents’ dangerous custom of firing guns into the sky on the holiday night, prosecutors wrote.

Nine officers were in unmarked SUVs patrolling Overtown and Liberty City when they came upon four men near the intersection of NW 1st Place and NW 15th Street, a sergeant who was riding with Sodre told State Attorney’s Office investigators.

SWAT officers told them that Weatherspoon, 27, “was shot after running from police, dropping a firearm from his waistband, and appearing to reach for it despite repeated warnings to stop,” investigators wrote in their “closeout memo” on the case. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle sent the report to Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa on Jan. 25 and it was provided to NBC Miami Tuesday.

Sodre used a Rock River .223-caliber M-4 semi-automatic rifle when he killed Weatherspoon on the sidewalk near the intersection, investigators wrote. Nine spent casings were found near the Excursion that Sodre was riding in, and four bullets and one bullet fragment were found in Weatherspoon’s body during an autopsy, they said.

Weatherspoon was carrying a 9mm Ruger pistol on him when he was shot. His family said that he was returning from the store when the incident happened, and a friend who witnessed the shooting said at the time that “he ran and panicked. He was drunk.”

Weatherspoon was, however, carrying the weapon illegally because he had served two multi-year sentences for cocaine trafficking and armed robbery and was prohibited from owning a gun, according to authorities.

In their report, investigators said the gun found near Weatherspoon was actually bought in 2007 by a Palmetto Bay woman who had no idea “that her gun had apparently been stolen.”

Two police officers said that Weatherspoon was holding the pistol at the time he was shot, but one sergeant and a civilian said that Weatherspoon was not holding a gun.

In a statement made to investigators in November 2011, Sodre’s attorney said that Sodre “fired his M-4 rifle at the male because he feared for his own safety and that of his partners. Officer Sodre fired several shots at the male until the threat was neutralized.”

At the time he fired, the attorney added, “Sodre had a legitimate perception and well-founded fear of imminent death or great bodily injury to himself and others.”

The report noted, “No one claims the deceased ever pointed a firearm at the police.”

It also said that “the Ruger found near Weatherspoon’s outstretched hand had his DNA on it,” indicating that it was “the same Ruger dropped and reached for by Weatherspoon” just before Sodre fired.

“Based on the evidence and the inferences, it is reasonable to believe that an officer positioned the same as the shooting officer, with similar experience and background, may have made the same decision to shoot,” investigators wrote, and accordingly they recommended that no criminal charges be filed against Sodre.

But, investigators added, they do recommend an evaluation of the New Year’s Eve SWAT policy in light of the shooting.

Orosa, who became the police chief after former chief Miguel Exposito was fired in September, did not use SWAT officers on New Year’s Eve this year.

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