Beach police chief defends officers in fatal shootings

MIAMI BEACH PD CAR(MIAMI HERALD)   Two men fatally shot by Miami Beach police in unrelated episodes four days apart were both believed to be armed with guns and exhibited ”abusive, violent, noncompliant and criminal” behavior, the police chief said Thursday.

”Officers are required to make split-second decisions . . . and cannot afford to hesitate or be wrong,” Chief Carlos Noriega said during a press conference. “In both cases, officers were dispatched to calls received from the public of subjects armed with weapons, with firearms.”

Recordings of 911 calls in both cases support Noriega — officers believed guns were involved, though no overwhelming evidence has emerged to suggest either person who was shot did carry a firearm.

Investigators believe the first man had a beer bottle under his shirt and appeared to reach for a weapon. The man in the second episode, according to sources, may have been armed with a hydraulic car jack — but the incident was complicated when a civilian public service aide fired a gun at the fleeing man.

Gregory Samms, a lawyer representing the families of both men, suggested both shootings were unjustified. He said he had asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate.

”I need them to be involved, not to sit on the sideline on a couch while the Miami Beach Police Department investigates themselves,” Samms said.

In the second shooting, on June 18, Officers Adam Tavss and Frank Celestre shot and killed Lawrence Raymond McCoy, 29, on the MacArthur Causeway.

McCoy, according to police and 911 calls, hijacked a taxi and its driver outside the Miami Beach Marina about 11 p.m. The cabbie says he believes McCoy bashed him in the head with a gun.

McCoy drove the stolen taxi the wrong way on the eastbound causeway lanes, and crashed into another car.


He bailed out and ran several hundred yards, according to sources, then encountered retired Miami Beach officer Steve Stuart and his girlfriend, Gisela Tacoa, a public service aide, who had been at the police fueling station at Fisher Island.

During a confrontation, Tacoa — who was off duty — fired a gun at McCoy, sources with knowledge of the investigation said. Chief Noriega, at the press conference, refused to detail her role but said she had been suspended without pay.

Stuart and Tacoa did not admit to their involvement to detectives until about 6 a.m., well after the shooting, sources said.


Richard McKinnon, head of the Communications Workers union local that represents public service aides, said he did not know the details of the shooting. He said: “She was trying to help as a serious crime was being committed.”

McCoy ran back up the causeway, where he was shot and killed by Tavss and Celestre.

Police did not initially find a gun but said McCoy had fired at officers. Inside the taxicab, detectives found the jack — coated in blood and hair — that they believed was used to hit the cabbie, sources said.

Days later, police divers fished a gun from nearby Biscayne Bay — but whether it was McCoy’s remains unknown, Noriega said at the news conference. Also unknown: results of gun-residue testing on McCoy’s hands.

Prosecutors are reviewing the case, which could fall under the state law that allows officers to fire at ”fleeing felons” who threaten officers or citizens.

Four days earlier, Officer Tavss shot and killed Husien Shehada on Washington Avenue after the man reportedly reached for an object that the officer believed to be a firearm. No gun was found.

Shehada’s brother, Samer, had been involved in a fight with a group of men earlier in the night. Investigators believe Samer and Husien hid a bottle and a large wooden coat hanger under their clothes — to feign weapons — while trying to find the men.


Police released surveillance video from a supermarket that shows Shehada and his brother striding down Washington Avenue. One appears to have something large tucked under the left side of his white T-shirt.

”One looks like he has a machine gun. I seen it underneath of the guy’s T-shirts,” one caller to 911 says. “It was pretty big. It’s obvious.”

Other witnesses thought both men were armed, and dispatchers relayed the info.

”I think the video shows two men walking on South Beach looking as normal as any other tourists. There is nothing menacing about them,” responded attorney Samms, who said the men were not “looking for anyone to rough up.”

Samms denied Husien had a bottle but admitted Samer carried a coat hanger. He could not explain why.

”I don’t know why he is taking a coat hanger with him,” Samms said. “I fail to see what that has to do with [the shooting].”


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