It Was a Ruthless, Professional Hit, and It Was the Cops Doing the Shooting

Page 5 of 5

The gang drove in a black Ford Expedition to the warehouse district, where at least two dozen cops were waiting for them. As they pulled into the parking lot, 12 snipers followed them from perches on surrounding buildings. Three Ryder moving trucks were ready to pull out and block the vehicle's escape. But there was no need. The Expedition's driver stopped the SUV and ran up to the cab of the trailer. He had a nickel-plated pistol in his hand and a mask over his face. As soon as he pointed the gun at the cab, an SRT officer hidden inside a metal box on the roof gave the "takedown" command. Lt. Luis Alvarez then stood up and shouted, "Police! Put your hands on your head and don't move."

The man turned and raised his gun. Suddenly, bullets struck him in the head, chest, and abdomen, killing him instantly. Four more snipers — believing they were being shot at — opened fire. They rattled off more than 30 rounds in ten seconds. When one of the would-be robbers climbed out of the Expedition to apparently take refuge behind it, the snipers shot him in the face, stomach, and wrist. When cops later searched his dead body, they discovered he was unarmed. The two other men in the SUV were also shot multiple times but survived.

The two deadly ambushes shed light on what likely happened last summer in the Redland. As Andrew, Gonzalez Sr., Betancourt, and Lemus crept toward the house, there were no warehouses for snipers to perch on. Instead, neighbors say the officers were hidden around and perhaps inside the house. More snipers were in the van that burst through the gate.

As in 2006 and 2007, police apparently didn't wait for the suspects to shoot before opening fire. There is "no evidence that shows that the subjects fired their weapons," a police spokesman tells New Times. Although Miami-Dade police won't explicitly say what happened until they close their investigation, they've never claimed the group shot at officers.

More than ten months of official silence has led to resentment, conspiracy theories, and threats of lawsuits from the relatives of those shot in the Redland raid.

"The cops violated his civil rights," says Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney preparing a lawsuit over Andrew's death. "There was no due process. He had the right to be arrested and go through the system. Instead, they basically went out and shot him." He argues that cops led the gang to expect an armed confrontation with marijuana growers. When snipers dressed in black sprang out of unmarked vans, did they really expect the robbers to drop their weapons?

"They set them up for a bloodbath," he says. "Police have guidelines, and it's not to run up and shoot people. This is not Judge Dredd, and those aren't the rules."

Rosendo Betancourt's family members might also file a lawsuit, although they are waiting for the police report before deciding. They feel betrayed by the police who, they say, pledged to protect the informant. "The police promised, 'Don't worry — he's working with us,' " says Grisel Perez, Betancourt's mother-in-law. "Then he was dead. We don't understand how they could have let this happen to him."

Ladonna says she worries about police retaliation as she goes ahead with her lawsuit. "They are the wrong people to have a problem with," she says.

The mystery over what happened that night in the Redland might be over in a few months, when police release their investigation into the fatal shooting. The lone surviving suspect, Roger Gonzalez Jr., has cooperated with authorities. He signed a plea agreement admitting to at least 11 robberies and was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison on April 13.

But his conviction only rankles the families of those who have no court dates to attend, only tombstones.

"It's not the cops' decision who should be on Earth and who shouldn't," Ladonna says. "Doing crime doesn't give them the right to take somebody's life."

[email protected]

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael E. Miller