I was triggered to write this piece in response to a commenter on a “True Homestead” Facebook post. The post-comment was to an article regarding Homestead Police Sergeant Ryan Khawly, nepotism, and the investigation into the death of three teens.
“I know Ryan personally, and he is a good man, don’t let the politics cloud your opinion of our local heroes.”~~ Facebook
I agree that politics should not cloud your opinion of our local heroes, but this is not about politics. It’s about integrity and the loss of three lives.
Since you mentioned heroes, let’s talk.
You see, there is a hero in this story. And it is he who deserves the utmost respect from our community. He also deserves an entirely transparent investigation that leaves no stones unturned regarding the circumstances of the death of his granddaughter.
Sunday, June 9th, 2002. It was late in the afternoon. I was a Lieutenant working an off-duty job. Officer Edgard Rivera attempted to stop a vehicle after it cut him off. The car initially refused to stop before pulling over at NW 6th Avenue and 10th Street.
A backseat passenger (Salvador Mendoza) leaned out of the window with a high-powered rifle and fired into the patrol car, striking officer Rivera in the neck. The officer was critically wounded, leaving him nearly incapable of speaking. With a barely audible breath, he cried out over the radio that he had been shot. The first arriving back up was able to pursue the offenders as they fled north. Additional help was able to assist the officer until Miami Dade Fire arrived.
Officer Rivera was airlifted to the Ryder Trauma Center, where he spent hours in surgery. His injuries left him permanently disabled. His career was cut short as he could never return to work as a police officer.
Officer Edgard Rivera is deserving of hero status, and this is where our story begins. Nineteen years after being shot in the line of duty, Officer Edgard Rivera’s thirteen-year-old Granddaughter is killed in a Crash.
The initial release of information outlines three encounters with the subject vehicle. The first is when a patrol officer attempts a traffic stop at Campbell Drive and 12th Avenue, and the car flees but, is lost. The second is when Sergeant Khawly tries to stop the vehicle at Waterstone Blvd and 43rd Avenue, which again eludes the officers and disappears.
“Twice in the night officers attempted to stop this vehicle each time it turned its lights off and fled,” said Eric Rodriguez with Homestead Police. ~~ CBS News Miami
Finally, the third encounter. Officers pulled over a car whose occupant informed them of a loud bang around the 2900 Block of Palm Drive. Officers went to that area, began a canvas, and found the crash site.
Fifteen Months Later, The Arrest
The arrest of Pablo Guttierez spells out the events leading up to the impact. The vehicle traveled westbound on Palm Drive from 43rd Avenue. The vehicle’s crash data system logged the speed at 111 miles per hour, four seconds before hitting the guardrail.
“Defendant turned the lights off on the vehicle while traveling westbound on E Palm Dr. Attempting to evade Sergeant Khawly. Defendant failed to maneuver the curve.”
The stretch of Palm Drive from 43rd Ave to the crash site is slightly less than one mile. For Sergeant Khawly to see the fleeing vehicle turn off the lights, he must be very close to Palm or Westbound behind the fleeing vehicle. My elementary math tells me he couldn’t have been more than 30-45 seconds behind the impact and likely closer.
Police Pursuit or Area Canvas for the lost vehicle?
The media release the morning of the incident puts time and distance between each attempted traffic stop and the crash, leading one to believe that the impact was not the result of active pursuit. The statement to the media explicitly states that the driver cut off the lights and fled in both encounters. Officers canvased the third area after an unrelated vehicle was stopped and the occupants reported hearing a loud crash.
Fifteen months later, the arrest affidavit tells a different story.
The media release vs. the arrest affidavit. How could they be so far apart?
Let’s Peel the Onion!
There should be two simultaneous investigations if someone dies due to a police pursuit.
The first is the crash investigation and reconstruction of the accident. That is handled by specialists from a traffic homicide division trained in accident reconstruction. In this case, the city’s traffic unit takes the crash portion.
The second is commonly referred to as a custody death investigation.
An outside agency generally handles that part to guarantee an independent review and transparency. The department’s internal affairs can also complete this portion of the case should the city choose not to use an outside agency.
The purpose of the custody death investigation is to determine if the officers’ actions played a part in the deaths of the teenagers. This portion of the inquiry should identify any violations of law and/or departmental policy on behalf of the officers.
The crash investigator focuses on the accident and the seconds leading up to the impact.
The custody death investigation begins with the vehicle’s first encounter with police and provides an in-depth look at the entire event.
If the pursuit was terminated and an area canvas had begun. The information in the media release makes sense regarding the third encounter. In this scenario, no custody death investigation is needed because the deaths were not a result of an active police pursuit.
If the pursuing officers lost sight of the vehicle because it “blacked out” at over 110 mph, hit the guard rail, and launched into the canal during an active pursuit, that is a much different story.
The First Encounter
- Did Officer Ramirez, who initiated the first stop, follow proper radio procedure? Did she call out speed, conditions, and the reason for pursuit?
- Was there a pursuit? Was there a reasonable belief that a forcible felony may have occurred?
- Where did the encounter begin, and where was the vehicle lost?
- Was there radio interaction with the field supervisor?
- Did the supervisor allow the chase to proceed, or was there an order to terminate?
- Was there a follow-up to file the appropriate charges related to the first incident after Pablo Guttierrez was located?
The Second Encounter
- Virtually the same information is collected as the first encounter.
- In this case, the supervisor wears two hats. He is the lead in the chase and has supervisory responsibility. He is solely responsible for deciding to pursue or terminate based on policy.
- The line supervisor is responsible for authorizing or terminating a pursuit depending on several factors. The final Internal Affairs report should shed light on Sergeant Khawly’s thought process regarding the supervisory decisions made throughout this event.
- The final report should focus on the law and policy. What went right, and what went wrong!
- Regarding the pursuit scenario. The same procedure applies to officer interviews as if it were a police shooting or any other type of custody death.
- The officers involved should be separated, an officer of equal or lower rank assigned to help with any needs, such as food or drink, and the officers should be made as comfortable as possible.
- The Dade County PBA (aka the police union) is immediately contacted, and the officers should not be subject to questioning without an attorney. This includes speaking to any ranking personnel other than a greeting.
- Officers involved in the event should not complete any reports or give a written account of the incident until they can speak to an attorney.
The Rules of Garrity are in Play!
So, this is where both investigations come together. The Internal Affairs Detectives (or outside agency) and the Traffic Homicide investigators coordinate with the PBA (union) Attorneys and possibly the State Attorney’s Office before statements are taken from the officers. This method of investigation guarantees the officer’s rights are protected while ensuring the transparency and integrity of the case.
The full report and the officer’s statements should be available at some point. Those statements should clear up any confusion and provide closure to the families of the three teens.
The Light of Nepotism Could Not Shine Brighter
Pictured above are members of the command staff, including Captain Rodriguez, on the morning of the crash. Captain Rodriguez is the commander of the traffic unit that is investigating the accident. Also pictured with the Command Staff is Sergeant Khawly, the brother-in-law of the Traffic Commander. The appearance of conflict is pretty strong, but I’ll hold judgment until the death investigation findings are released.
Parents and Grandparents
Suppose you are a parent or grandparent reading this post. Before passing judgment on all of the kids in this car, think long and hard about your life. I cringe, thinking about some of the stupidity I found myself in as a young teen. Pablo Guttierrez is a lunatic; he must be locked away for a long time. I’m amazed it took fifteen months to arrest him.
With that being said, all of the parents and grandparents involved deserve a complete account of the events leading up to the death of their children/grandchildren. Officer Edgard Rivera’s granddaughter was thirteen and made a poor choice that kids make. That choice cost her her life.
Florida Statute 768.28 (d) explicitly addresses agency liability regarding pursuits. Police Supervisors are well schooled on when and what to chase and when and what to terminate.
A year and a half after the crash, the case remains open. The I.A. review should be very well-detailed for this much time to pass.