A South Florida woman is questioning why prosecutors didn’t pursue a criminal charge against the officer who shot and killed her son, considering the officer’s own department recently fired him for his actions the night of the shooting.
Flanked by religious and community leaders at a press conference Friday, Sheila McNeil criticized a decision by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office last year not to charge Officer Reynaldo Goyos in the 2011 homicide of McNeil’s son, 28-year-old Travis McNeil.
“I feel like that was a great injustice done to myself and my family when they ruled my son's death to be justifiable,” Sheila McNeil said. “I’ve never known anyone to be shot in the back and their killing to be noted to be justifiable.”
The State Attorney’s Office last year concluded that prosecutors would not be able to disprove that Goyos feared McNeil was reaching for a weapon during a Feb. 10, 2011, traffic stop. McNeil appeared to be reaching for something, potentially cellphones that had apparently fallen from his lap, and it later was determined that McNeil was unarmed.
Other officers on the scene said McNeil ignored commands to show his hands.
In a statement Friday, the prosecutors’ office explained that the standard of proof is higher for criminal cases -- where people may be convicted of a crime and deprived of their freedom -- than for civil administrative cases, where officers or other employees may be fired from their jobs.
“A police department in order to prevail in a discipline case need only prove the violation by preponderance of the evidence or at most, in very limited instances by clear and convincing guilt,” the statement said. “The standard of proof for the State in a prosecution is of course the highest standard in the law, beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt.”
Wednesday, the Miami Police Department announced it fired Goyos from his job after the city’s firearm review board concluded that Goyos opened fire, even though Goyos wasn’t in imminent danger.
The review board found that McNeil was struck in his rear left-shoulder area, and said that such evidence was “inconsistent with Officer Goyos [sic] statement that he saw a black object on Mr. McNeil,” according to a reprimand letter issued against Goyos by the police department.
In the letter, the department called Goyos’ shooting “unjustified” and a violation of the department’s deadly force policy. McNeil died from being shot once, and McNeil’s front-seat passenger, Kareem Williams, suffered two gunshot wounds, police said. No weapons were found in their vehicle, police said.
The reprimand letter was initialed by Goyos to indicate that he disagreed with the findings and with the recommended penalty. And the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, which is representing Goyos, has defended the officer, saying he was fired strictly because of city politics, and not for any wrongdoing.
Friday, the State Attorney’s Office elaborated that prosecutors determine whether police action is legally justified, based on the criminal laws of Florida.
A past appellate court decision says police departments may impose deadly force regulation on officers that is more stringent than what is imposed on officers for criminal and civil liability, the State Attorney’s Office noted. But prosecutors are prohibited from considering such police department policies when determining criminal liability, the prosecutors’ office said.
“The law in Florida is thus clear,” the prosecutors’ office said. “Police departments may use rule violations to discipline, but these rule violations are irrelevant to a determination of criminal liability and prosecutors may not rely on them for supporting criminal charges.”
Despite Friday’s explanation by prosecutors, McNeil’s family said they still wanted Goyos to be prosecuted.