Black leaders calling for change at Civilian Investigative Panel

Agency dogged by racial allegations

Erick Johnson | 5/8/2014, 9 a.m.
Miami’s Black leaders are calling for sweeping reforms at the city’s Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), an agency that has come ...

Miami’s Black leaders are calling for sweeping reform at the city’s Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), an agency that has come under heavy fire with allegations of racism and internal power struggles that have left the group in turmoil and unable to serve its purpose.

Those demands include the termination of the board’s Executive Director, Cristina Beamud and CIP counsel, Charles Mays. Black leaders and organizations believe the two are stirring racial tensions within the CIP after several investigators resigned or were terminated.

The departures have left the CIP short staffed and unable to process a backlog of cases that have accumulated as the agency remains side-tracked with growing accusations of racism and reverse racism among panel members.

“They’re (CIP) not being effective,” said Nathaniel Wilcox, president of People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE).

“We have people dying in the streets while cases are not moving forward.”

“The city needs to stop and do what’s right,” said Adora Obi Nweze, President of the Florida and Miami-Dad chapter of the NAACP. “The CIP should be the model for the country. They (CIP) should not allow all the mess that is going on destroy the group.”

Black leaders say the infighting has caused the panel to stray away from its purpose that was set in 2001 when voters overwhelmingly approved creating the CIP after a string of shootings of Black men along with indictment of 13 officers who were accused of planting guns on suspects in “throw-down cases.”

The board consists of 13 members who review complaints of police misconducts in cases that involves fatal outcomes that usually spark accusations of racism and discrimination by Blacks. Last month, the panel cleared five police officers in the brutal killing of 21-year-old Gibson Belizaire, who was shot more than 130 times behind an auto body shop in Little Haiti in 2010. The CIP decision in that case reinforced a report by prosecutors who cleared the officers of wrongdoing after ruling the shooting was justified.

Belizaire was one of seven Black men killed in the inner city by Miami police between July 2010 and February 2011. The shootings led to an escalation of racial tensions — in two of the seven shootings, the men shot dead were unarmed.

A coalition of community organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), called on the civilian panel to conduct an independent review of each case.

But some Black leaders said they are disappointed with the way CIP reviews its cases. They said the panel does not conduct a thorough investigation into fatal shootings of Blacks by police officers.

With only one investigator and 50 open cases, many organizations are concerned about the CIP’s ability to function as an independent agency.

They blame Beamud, the agency’s executive director, who has an impressive background in law enforcement. But since her arrival last December, two of the agency’s three investigators have left. All of them are Black. They include Nikko Evans, an investigator, resigned. Beamud fired seven-year veteran Shewanda Hall, accusing her of insubordination. Barbara Sweet resigned after filing a discrimination complaint, which the city found to be unsubstantiated despite a tattered post-it note that Sweet attached to her complaint. Sources said Sweet retrieved the note from Beamud’s office trash. The note read “Black people are like animals.”