|Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates|
What follows is an email Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates sent to members of his department explaining why he declined to be interviewed by Miami New Times for a story it's doing on Tasers.
Please see the dialogue, below. You will see that the New Times is planning an article on use of Tasers by our Department, as well as by other agencies in our area. For reasons expressed in my response to the reporter, I have declined to do the interview.
I don’t expect that the article will be favorable to our Department. As you all know, we are in a business where criticism is often directed our way. This is part of our job and something we have to occasionally deal with.
This email is shared for your information only. My request is that you not release it outside the Department. If any of you have any questions or doubts about how I have handled this response, I encourage you to talk to me about it. No emails, please. Stop by and see me in the office or call Tricia and she’ll arrange for us to talk by phone. Thank you.
From: Oates, Daniel J.
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 8:39 AM
Cc: Thayer, Vivian
Subject:Response to Request for Interview
The Miami Beach Police Department will not participate in your offer of an interview for several reasons.
First, the matter of the death of Israel Hernandez is still under review by the State’s Attorney’s office. Until that investigation is complete -- and is followed by a full investigation by my office into any potential policy failures or possible misconduct by the officers involved -- it would be inappropriate to offer any public comment in any forum. This does not diminish my feeling, and that of every officer in my Department, that the death of Mr. Hernandez is a tragedy and that we grieve for his family in their loss.
Second, your email implies that you have already rendered judgment on the Miami Beach Police Department and its use of Tasers. You appear to be less than objective about the subject. So I see no point in responding, given that you have already made up your mind about so many elements of this complex subject.
As with other aspects of my new job here, the matter of the MBPD’s Taser policy and the devices themselves are under review. Having worked in three other departments, and having participated for many years in the national discussion with colleague police chiefs about this particular tool, I will tell you that I have seen great value in the deployment of Tasers during my career. This is obviously true of other police chiefs as well. The majority of modern large police departments issue these devices to their officers. I believe that on the whole, these devices have saved lives and lessened injuries for officers and suspects. If I did not believe this, I would have removed Tasers from Miami Beach police officers when I arrived here in June.
Finally, your request for a response by Friday of this particular week is unreasonable. I believe you know this to be so. While this is not per se a reason to decline further comment, I do object to the artificiality of your “deadline” on a story you have obviously been working on for months. The fact that you give me just a few days during Christmas week to respond to so many questions regarding such a complex topic suggests that you are not serious about gaining my perspective. You appear to be going through the motions of objectivity without actually being objective about this subject.
I will deal with the Israel Hernandez matter as it comes before me, after the decision by the State’s Attorney. I will deal with the further review of our Taser policy as best I can in the days ahead.
I have asked Officer Thayer to collect for you basic statistics on major index crime in Miami Beach for the past 10 years. This information is published on the FBI’s website, but she will try to find it for you as well.
From: Michael Miller [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, December 22, 2014 04:06 PM
To: Thayer, Vivian; Rodriguez, Nannette; Yarbough, Julia; Berthier, Melissa
Subject: Urgent request for comment - Miami New Times article on Taser use by MBPD officers
Good afternoon. I'm a reporter for the Miami New Times. My newspaper is publishing an investigation into Taser use by Miami, Miami-Dade, and Miami Beach police officers. I have several questions for your department, listed below. Please provide answers to these by Friday, Dec. 26 at noon. I know this is a holiday week but that is my deadline. Thank you for your assistance.
According to records provided by your department, Miami Beach Police have used their Tasers more than 584 times in the past eight years. At least one person – 18-year-old Israel Hernandez – has died from being Tasered by a MBPD officer.
Is Chief Oates concerned that his officers are overusing their Tasers?
There is mounting evidence that Taser use can be deadly, even if the suspect is completely healthy. Hernandez was the first person in Florida whose death has officially been attributed to Taser use.
Is your department concerned about the potentially deadly effects of Tasers? Does your department consider Tasers “non-lethal”? Or “less lethal”?
Recently, an outside audit recommended that MBPD call its Tasers “less lethal” and limit some uses of the weapons. Has your department followed these recommendations? Why or why not?
My investigation has found multiple instances in which Miami Beach Police appear to have misused their Tasers. In addition to the case of Israel Hernandez, I mention two other worrying incidents involving MBPD officers and Taser use.
On Thanksgiving weekend of last year, Miami Beach officer Enrique Rios spotted a homeless man named Michael Franks on Lincoln Road, asking passersby for change. When Rios told him to get lost, Franks insulted the officer. When Franks refused to let himself get handcuffed, Rios “was forced to drive-stun the defendant for approximately three separate cycles in order to gain the defendant’s compliance.”
Does MBPD allow its officers to Taser suspects simply to obtain compliance with an officer's orders? Franks was neither fleeing nor physically threatening the officers.
New Times has also found other instances of homeless men being Tased by Miami Beach police for misdemeanors such as refusing to pay for a $13 meal.
Does Chief Oates believe these are appropriate uses of a potentially deadly weapon?
This January, Miami Beach Police tased a young man for skateboarding. Thadeus Duval, 23, and five friends were filming a music video in the parking lot of Nautilus Middle School after midnight during Christmas break when officer Steven Cosner arrived. Duval told the cop to leave them alone and that all they were doing was skating. Then he said he lived a block away and started walking home.
“I was outnumbered 6 to 1,” Cosner wrote in his report. “I had to step up my presence and yelled at [Duval] to put his hands on the car.” The cop pulled out his Taser and pointed it at the skateboarder, then called for backup. Duval obeyed and put his hands on the car. But when cops tried to handcuff him he took off running. That's when Cosner hit him with the Taser.
Duval hit his head on the ground. He was treated by paramedics, then arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest without violence. There was no sign of vandalism or a break-in at the school. Both charges were quickly dropped.
“It was really outrageous,” says Adrian Garcia, who was there that night. “The cop acted very aggressively.”
Was Officer Cosner disciplined for this use of force? If he wasn't, why not?
Does Chief Oates believe these two cases reflect appropriate and reasonable uses of potentially deadly weapons?
My investigation has also found other incidents in which the homeless and/or mentally ill were Tased by Miami Beach Police for minor, non-violent offenses. Is your department using excessive force against these most vulnerable Miamians?
In the case of Israel Hernandez, his family has accused MBPD of using “unnecessary, excessive and unconstitutional force.” MBPD officers “had no reasonable basis to fear for their own safety or the safety of the public” and no reason to suspect that the unarmed teen was “a danger to them or anyone else,” according to the family's lawsuit. Please comment on this incident. Is it a reflection that MBPD officers too quickly use their Tasers?
Many civil rights groups have called on police departments to only use Tasers in life-threatening situations. Is Miami Beach Police in favor of this policy change? Why or why not?
Given that police-involved shootings have gone up in Miami since the introduction of Tasers (your department has not made Miami Beach numbers available yet), have these weapons proven to be a failure? If they don't reduce fatal police-involved shootings, why does MBPD continue to use them?
Finally, please provide statistics on Miami Beach crime rates in the past five or ten years. Has crime and violent crime fallen during this period? If so, by how much?
Thank you for your assistance. I want to be sure to provide the City of Miami Beach and MBPD with ample opportunity to comment for this article. My deadline is this Friday by noon.
Michael E. Miller
Miami New Times
(305) 571 7544