Four Florida Police Officers Indicted for Manslaughter in 2019 UPS Driver and Bystander Deaths

Four Florida Police Officers Indicted for Manslaughter in 2019 UPS Driver and Bystander Deaths

Four Miami-Dade police officers have been indicted for manslaughter in the 2019 deaths of a hijacked UPS driver and a bystander. The indictments follow a four-year investigation into the tragic shootout.

Florida, Bollywood Fever:  Four Florida police officers have been indicted for manslaughter in connection with a 2019 shootout on a busy rush-hour street that left a hijacked UPS driver and a passerby dead.

A grand jury indicted Miami-Dade County officer Rodolfo Mirabal, 39, on two counts of manslaughter with a firearm for the December 5, 2019, deaths of 27-year-old UPS driver Frank Ordonez and 70-year-old union negotiator Richard Cutshaw, who was driving nearby, Broward County prosecutors announced Saturday night.

Officers Jose Mateo, 32, Richard Santiesteban, 33, and Leslie Lee, 57, were indicted for manslaughter with a firearm in connection with Ordonez’s death but are not charged with Cutshaw’s death. None of the officers are charged with the deaths of the hijackers, 41-year-old cousins Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill.

Mateo and Mirabal remain employed by Miami-Dade police. Lee retired three years ago, and Santiesteban was fired, according to the Miami Herald.

Under Florida law, manslaughter is an unlawful killing committed while demonstrating “culpable negligence,” defined as an act showing a “wanton or reckless disregard for human life.” If convicted, the officers face a maximum sentence of 30 years, though as first-time offenders, such a sentence is unlikely.

The officers surrendered to the Broward Sheriff’s Office on Friday and Saturday and were released without bail. The indictments, issued over a week ago, were kept secret pending the officers’ surrender. News of the indictments leaked on Monday night.

The indictments follow a four-year investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The shootout occurred during rush hour on a major street in suburban Fort Lauderdale after a lengthy pursuit by several police agencies. About 20 law enforcement officers were present, though it is unclear how many fired at the hijackers, who had been shooting at officers throughout the chase.

Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor stated that the extensive state investigation and the months-long grand jury proceedings were necessary “to ensure we get answers for the victims’ families and the community.” Pryor emphasized the gravity of the decision to use deadly force, acknowledging that such decisions are made under intense and uncertain circumstances.

Neither Pryor nor his prosecutors have disclosed how the actions of the indicted officers differed from the others involved. They declined further comment on Sunday.

No lawyers for the officers are listed in court records. The South Florida Police Benevolent Association, the officers’ union, has not responded to requests for comment. However, union president Steadman Stahl previously issued a statement condemning the indictments, expressing disappointment that the officers were indicted for actions they had only seconds to decide upon, and warning of a chilling effect on officers in Broward County.

Miami-Dade police have not responded to inquiries, but previously stated they “respect the legal process.”

The incident began when Alexander and Hill robbed Regent Jewelers in Coral Gables. When officers arrived, shots were fired inside the store, and a worker was injured by a ricochet. The robbers fled and hijacked Ordonez, who was delivering packages nearby.

They led officers on a chase into Broward County, running red lights and narrowly avoiding crashes. Television news helicopters broadcast the chase live. The hijackers fired from inside the van, which eventually stopped in a busy intersection, caught behind a wall of vehicles at a red light.

Witnesses reported that gunfire erupted as officers approached the van. Ordonez, Alexander, and Hill were killed inside the van, while Cutshaw was found dead in his car. It remains unclear if Ordonez and Cutshaw were shot by police, the robbers, or both.

Policing experts noted that the officers faced a challenging situation, as the robbers were firing from the van, endangering officers, Ordonez, and nearby drivers. The officers needed to contain the robbers to prevent further hostage-taking.

It is rare for Florida law enforcement officers to be charged for an on-duty killing, with only three such cases in the past 40 years, and only one conviction. Three officers in Crestview await trial for the 2021 death of Calvin Wilks Jr., while former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja is serving a 25-year sentence for the 2015 shooting of Corey Jones. A manslaughter charge against a Broward sheriff’s deputy in a 2014 shooting was dismissed by a judge.

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