Lisa J. Huriash and Andrew Boryga
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — At least 18 officers, the majority of them from Miami-Dade Police, fired their guns Thursday afternoon as jewelry store robbers shot at them, Rod Skirvin, the president for the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, said Monday.
Officers chased a hijacked UPS truck from Coral Gables to Miramar after the robbers held up a Regent Jewelers on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Killed in the gunfire were the robbers, Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill; the kidnapped UPS driver, Frank Ordonez; and a commuter who was in his car, Richard Cutshaw.
The number of officers who fired shots is among the few details to become available since the shootout. The police agencies involved have released very little information despite multiple requests for public records by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Police haven’t yet released the names of the officers who fired shots.
Among the unanswered questions is whose bullets killed the four people. “We don’t know who shot who yet,” said Steadman Shahl, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, which is representing the 13 Miami-Dade officers involved.
A spokesman for the Broward medical examiner’s office said Monday that all the recovered projectiles were turned over the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement — two agencies conducting investigations — “for analysis and comparison with the weapons used.” Examiners “will perform a comparison of the rifling, the lands and grooves, to determine which round came from which gun.”
The police agencies’ actions instantly fell under scrutiny by the public and by Ordonez’s family.
Ordonez’s stepdad, Joe Merino, has said the police acted inappropriately in the shootout. Ordonez had been kidnapped in the UPS truck and should’ve been saved, not killed, amid the gunfire. “The police are here to serve and protect, but where was the protection for my son?” Merino asked last week.
Shahl said the robbers’ shooting at police underscored the danger officers must face. “It’s a dangerous time we are living in.” He said more focus should be on “the bad guys who put everything into play.”
Shahl said officers have a heightened awareness of the importance of confronting a shooter, especially after last year’s massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which a shooter killed 17 and wounded 17 others.
“Parkland changed everything,” Shahl said. “We’re trained to engage the shooter. If they didn’t do it and something bad happened, (people would ask) ‘Why didn’t you engage them? Why did you allow this to happen?’”
If there’s an active shooter, “we’re going after them.” “If we lived in a perfect world, we’d have bullets that only hit bad guys.”
Skirvin, whose union is representing officers for two of the agencies, Miramar and Pembroke Pines, said the officers were forced to save their own lives by returning fire at the robbers who were trying to kill them. “We’re trained if there’s an active shooter to shoot back, to contain the threat and eliminate the threat.”
No police were wounded in the shooting.
Skirvin said the union’s tally of officers who opened fire may grow once agencies’ investigations are finalized. He said those who fired shots were: 13 officers with Miami-Dade Police; three officers (and maybe a fourth) from Miramar; at least one officer (and possibly a second) from Pembroke Pines; and a trooper from the Florida Highway Patrol.
Both Miramar and Miami-Dade police acknowledged their officers involved have been placed on administrative leave. The Florida Highway Patrol on Monday said the one trooper who was involved is on administrative leave during the investigation. Two spokespeople for the Pembroke Pines Police Department haven’t answered questions since Thursday.
Skirvin said based on the preliminary information available, the officers’ actions “were justified and the union supports them.”
He said officers wanted to make sure the two robbers didn’t take another hostage or kill someone in traffic. He said the SWAT team and a hostage negotiator were still “en route, but these guys were actively shooting and trying to kill people.”
He called the killing of the UPS driver and the commuter a tragedy and said it’s a “very emotional experience for an officer to have to take a life and it’s a lifelong event for them to deal with.” He said the officers are “emotionally distraught. Our No. 1 goal is protection of the citizens.”
He said he expects training to improve. “This situation will be analyzed many times over,” he said. “And we will try to improve our training and our tactics to try to prevent loss of life.”