Miami-Dade County has agreed to pay $700,000 to the family of a police informant who was shot to death after being seen on video surrendering to police, NBC 6 Investigators have learned.
This brings to $1.3 million the total settlements paid from a botched sting operation that led to the deaths of the informant and three suspected home invaders.
The settlement came just weeks before the county and three officers were to face trial in federal court in a civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of Rosendo Betancourt, the informant who police say reached for a gun in his waistband 70 seconds after he surrendered to them, putting his hands in the air and dropping to the ground.
The lawsuit claimed the county condoned a police pattern and practice of luring suspected criminals to sting operations as a way to kill them without benefit of trial, claiming they were in fear for their lives.
In reaching the settlement, which still must be approved by courts, the county did not admit any wrongdoing.
The county has already paid $240,000 each to the families of two of the would-be home invaders, and $120,000 to survivors of a third – the only man whose death prosecutors ruled was legally justified.
Working with police, Betancourt lured all three into the trap at the county-owned home in the Redland in June 2011, telling them drugs and money were in the house.
Prosecutors could not say three of the killings – including Betancourt’s – were legally justified, citing several “unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors.” Among them: a watch Betancourt was wearing that would have recorded hours of his conversations prior to his being killed disappeared from his body that afternoon or evening.
A criminal evidence tampering investigation is under way into whether officers destroyed that evidence.
Asked if settling for $1.3 million suggests police did something wrong, Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson said, “I wouldn’t say anything really went wrong. I think it’s just a combination of a lot of questionable activities, a lot of bad actors, if you will. … What happened happened. We talk about bad things coming together. When I say bad things I’m talking about bad people. Police tried to intervene and people lost their lives. That’s a bad thing. All we can do is to try to learn from it, not repeat it and go forward as a county."
Patterson’s boss, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, reached another conclusion.
“Well something obviously goes wrong whenever people die,” Gimenez said, “and I know the police department certainly didn’t plan the operation thinking people were going to die. I mean they’re always prepared for that. But, yeah, something obviously did go wrong and then four people died and then because of that and because we had a knowledge gap of exactly what happened then unfortunately settling out of court was the prudent thing to do to protect the interests of the people of Miami-Dade County."