Miami SWAT Officer Cleared in Shooting; State Attorney Questions Policy

It was New Year’s Eve 2011 and Ofc. Maurice Sodre was part of a mobile nine-man Miami Police Department SWAT team detailed to assist MPD road units with shots fired calls or other emergencies based upon the holiday.

At approximately 0145 hrs on 1/1/2011, the detail, driving in two black unmarked Ford Excursion SUV’s, responded to the area of 1st Place and 15 Street in Overtown for a report of shots fired.  As they approached the area, the officers saw four males at the intersection, one of whom began to walk, and then run, northbound.

The male, Lynn Weatherspoon, was ordered to stop by several of the responding SWAT members.  One of the officers saw Weatherspoon fumbling at his waistband, one saw him drop something and try to retrieve it, and another officer saw Weatherspoon drop a handgun on the ground and attempt to pick it up.  This was despite several officers telling him to stop and announcing, “Police!” multiple times.

Fearing for his safety and that of his partners, Ofc. Sodre fired nine rounds from his Rock River Arms LAR-15 and killed Weatherspoon.  A Ruger P95 9mm pistol was found near Weatherspoon’s right hand.  The suspect had a box with 47 9mm Winchester bullets, identical to those in the gun, cocaine, and pills on his person.

The gun tested positive for Weatherspoon’s DNA.  Weatherspoon was a felon, having convictions for cocaine possession and armed robbery, so it was illegal for him to possess the handgun and ammunition.  The legitimate owner of the gun said it had been stolen, though that was not yet reported to police.

MPD’s New Year’s Eve Operational Plan was concise and included a Deliberate Action Plan, Contingency Plan, and an Emergency Plan.  The intent of the operation was to safeguard the citizens of Miami and its police officers from the large volume of gunfire, celebratory or otherwise, that occurs on that date.

In 1997, Miami Police Ofc. Ricky Taylor was killed by gunfire on New Year’s Eve as he and a partner responded to a shots fired call in the Liberty City area.  He was shot in the head through the rear window of their cruiser.  It was not a case of a “falling bullet.”  No suspect was ever identified and no leads ever surfaced.

On 1/25/2012, the State Attorney’s Office for the 11th Judicial Circuit concluded, “Based on the evidence and 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.”  The SAO ruled Sodre was legally justified in his use of deadly force.

However, 11th Circuit State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s report then made this statement:

“It is our reasoned opinion that the policy that placed SWAT Officer Sodre in the position of shooting Lynn Weatherspoon on New Years Eve be evaluated in light of the resulting police-involved shooting.”

Ofc. Sodre was forced to shoot an armed felon who was fumbling with, dropped, then attempted to pick up a loaded 9mm handgun, all as the suspect was being lawfully ordered not to do so.  Had this situation unfolded with a road officer, instead of a trained SWAT member, the outcome may have been the death of the officer or other innocents.

It is my opinion that police policies do not place officers or deputies “in the position of shooting” suspects.  The actions of the suspect determine the law enforcement response.  The SAO’s departure from an objective analysis of the shooting to opine about Miami Police Department’s allocation of public safety resources only served to cast “official” doubt on the police in general.


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