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Miami-Dade cops on trial for killing two Black males

Erick Johnson | 6/23/2014, 10:31 a.m.
A major trial is underway involving two Miami-Dade police officers who were stripped of immunity last week in the controversial ...

A major trial is underway involving two Miami-Dade police officers who were stripped of immunity last week in the controversial shooting that killed two Black men in Little Haiti nearly seven years ago.

Drama is building as a jurors hear the details of the racially-charged case involving police officers Ryan Robinson and Michael Mendez, who killed Michael Knight and Frisco Blackwood in a barrage of bullets after they turned onto a dead-end street in 2007.

The shooting sparked protests and anger from the Black community as residents voiced their outrage on streets and radio stations about the case and a string of shootings of Blacks during that time. Two weeks after the shooting of Knight and Blackwood, a town hall meeting at the Joseph Caleb Center was filled with religious leaders and civil rights organizations who appealed for patience as tensions flared among residents demanding justice over the shooting. The relatives of victims also attended the meeting.

The shooting occurred after Blackwood, the driver, was taking his then 23-year-old girlfriend, Latasha Cure, home. Knight was in the front passenger seat. The three were returning from a night of partying at Coco’s Nightclub in North Miami when police began following them. Cure survived the shooting with a gunshot wound in her thigh.

BLACK LEADERS ON ALERT

The trial is being held at the Miami Federal Courthouse Complex in the King Building located at 99 NE 4th St. and is expected to last throughout the week. Black leaders and civil rights organizations are closely following the proceedings.

“We obviously are monitoring the trial to make sure it's moving in the direction of justice,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida chapter of the NAACP. “There were a number of police shootings in the Black community at the time, but we are following this case as far as criminal justice is concerned.”

People United to Leave the Struggle for Equality (PULSE), a civil rights organization led by Nathaniel Wilcox, has for years urged the Justice Department to investigate questionable police shootings involving Blacks. He praised this latest effort.

“We support the Justice Department's efforts to pursue justice for the victims,” Wilcox said. "The majority of our police officers are good, but you have officers on the force who kill citizens for no reason and try to get away with it."

NO IMMUNITY

Cure will play a key role in the trial, which began last week after a federal judge in the 11th Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a decision by a federal court in Miami that denied the officers immunity. The decision was a rare outcome for cases involving controversial shootings, especially in Miami, where such investigations have not historically favored Blacks.

That’s why legal experts say this trial is unique and so far a victory for relatives of the victims, including Knight’s mother, Cheryl Kerr, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2009 seeking punitive and other damages.

During the trial, jurors will hear arguments that will help them decide whether Cure was coerced into making a sworn statement she made on the night of the shooting. That statement said Blackwood and Knight tried to flee the police before they were killed.