Family of Howard Bowe, Unarmed Man Killed by Hallandale SWAT Team, Files Wrongful-Death Suit

Bowe grilled and sold Bahamian-style conch and chicken dinners from his front yard.
Bowe grilled and sold Bahamian-style conch and chicken dinners from his front yard.
Courtesy Corneesa Bowe

Last year, a New Times investigation found that the city of Hallandale Beach had executed 38 SWAT raids since 2006. Thirty-three of those took place within the city's poor, majority-black neighborhood, and none of the raids led to major drug busts.

But one May 2014 raid killed 34-year-old Howard Bowe Jr. Bowe was unarmed when Hallandale Police's SWAT unit barged into his home, killed his dog with a shotgun, and then shot him in the stomach. He would die in the hospital 11 days later.

Bowe had a history of petty drug crimes. But said crimes don't justify getting shot dead in one's home by a militarized police unit. Scores of community leaders and criminal justice experts spoke out against Bowe's death. "Clearly, this is a misapplication of a militarized approach that should only be reserved for the most extreme situations," Peter Kraska, a University of Kentucky professor of criminology who has studied SWAT tactics, said at the time. "This misapplication unfortunately led to an unnecessary tragedy."

Despite this, a Broward grand jury deemed Bowe's death a "justifiable use of deadly force" in April, and declined to charge the cops with a crime. So Bowe's family, led by his father Howard Sr., sued the City of Hallandale Beach.

Bowe Sr.'s lawyer, David Frankel, says the family is suing in order to change the culture at the Hallandale Beach Police Department. Like many departments accused of profiling suspects — including departments in Cleveland, Chicago, and Ferguson, Missouri — Hallandale Police have been reluctant to admit they have issues with race-based policing.

"What I have found is that the only way that you effect change is to sue them," Frankel said to New Times. "If you ask them, they'll say they're doing all they should be doing. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference until an insurance company has to pay out a whole lot of money."

The family's complaint says that Hallandale Officer Michael McKenzie, who shot Bowe, "knew or should have known, and every reasonable officer in his position would have concluded, that there was no reason to shoot Howard Bowe Jr. who was standing in his own home, in his underwear, unarmed and with both hands clearly visible."

Friends and family called Bowe "Poochie" as a kid, due to his chubby face and love for Winnie the Pooh. But money was tight as Bowe grew older — especially after he fathered a child at age 16. He was then arrested for a series of petty drug crimes, including possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. But by 2011, Bowe had apparently straightened out his legal issues, gotten his used-car dealer's license, and was hoping to buy a home near Lake Okeechobee so he could spend his free time jet-skiing.

Becoming a father at age 16, Howard Bowe tried many different ways to make ends meet.
Becoming a father at age 16, Howard Bowe tried many different ways to make ends meet.
Courtesy of Corneesa Bowe

Instead, police say Bowe sold a baggie of crack to an informant in May 2014, which led to the SWAT team's deployment. SWAT teams are required by law to "knock and announce" their presence before entering a suspect's home. One of Bowe's neighbors, Arvis Samuel, 41, claimed the SWAT team burst through Bowe's back door without introducing themselves.

"HBPD SWAT member, Detective Distefano, has stated under oath that he was the officer responsible for announcing the presence of police prior to breaking down the door and that he did not announce the presence of the officers and did not hear anyone else announce or give any commands to Howard Bowe Jr. before he was shot," the family's complaint says.

Despite this, a Broward grand jury declined to indict the cops last month. Frankel, the lawyer, said he's aware that grand juries tend to let cops off the hook — he's a former Broward state prosecutor.

"People don’t want to indict a police officer if they don’t have to," he says. "It’s hard, especially when the officer is able to come in and say how sorry he is, what a mistake it was, that he thinks about it every day of his life. That makes it very hard to indict."

But from a civil standpoint, he says, Bowe's death has "devastated this family."

Bowe's sister Corneesa told New Times in 2015 that she "heard some screaming and then the gunshots. And after that, my brother was crying out, 'Why did y'all shoot me?'"

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