Unarmed Tourist Shot Dead By Police; Family Wants Answers
Two brothers from Virginia come down to Miami for a few days of vacation. One of them is shot and killed by a police officer. He was unarmed. That same officer kills another man four days later.
Like many tourists who come down to Miami Beach, Husien Shehada and his brother, Samer, had planned the vacation for months, saving up enough money where they could splurge for a few days with their girlfriends.
They arrived two weeks ago from Virginia and stayed at the Loews Hotel, each of them spending $239 a night for their respective rooms for each couple. After spending a few days on the beach and hanging by the pool, they decided to see some alligators, so they rented a car and drove to the Everglades.
Then they drove up to Broward County to the Sawgrass Mills Malls to do some shopping. The two brothers sat in the food court eating pizza while their girlfriends purchased outfits at Bebe.
After getting back to their rooms and resting a bit, they got ready to go out to Sobe Live because they wanted to see DJ Terrence perform. Khloe Kardashian was also going to be there. The girlfriends were excited to wear their new outfits.
They danced for a couple of hours, then walked back to their rooms. But the night was still young - at least for South Beach standards - so they walked back outside to buy some cigarettes and maybe something to eat and enjoy the balmy evening.
At about 4:30 a.m., the two couples were walking down Washington Avenue. The two brothers were walking up ahead. Their girlfriends were following closely behind.
Suddenly, about seven Miami Beach police officers approached the brothers from behind and ordered them to turn around.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” said Samer. “We saw a bunch of lights. Heard a bunch of shouting. We were in a state of shock.”
Seconds later, one of the officers opened fire, killing Husien.
“I saw my brother go down so I laid down next to him and lifted his head,” Samer said. “Blood was coming out of his mouth.
“He turned and faced me. I saw him take his last breath.”
Husien was 29 years old.
A Second Shooting
Adam Tavss, the officer who shot and killed Husien, was involved in a second officer-involved shooting just four days after in which he and another officer shot and killed a carjacking suspect.
This despite the fact that police assured he would be placed on paid administrative leave until a thorough investigation had been conducted.
Miami Beach Police spokesman Juan Sanchez said that departmental policy requires officers to undergo a psychology screening and be placed on leave for a minimum of 72 hours. He said that policy is backed by state and national police certification standards.
In Tavss’ case, he was cleared to be back on duty in four days. Police say the second suspect he shot, Lawrence Raymond McCoy, was armed. Husien Shehada was not.
“How in the world can they clear an officer while the body is still warm and allow him to kill again?” asked John Contini, attorney for the Shehada family.
Accused of Domestic Violence
In the seconds after the shooting, police descended upon Samer and handcuffed him, throwing him in the back of a police car. He was charged with domestic violence for an incident that allegedly occurred three hours before the shooting.
Police said they confronted the men because several people had called 911 with reports of two men walking around with guns under their shirts.
They said the men in question turned out to be the Shehada brothers, but it turned out they were only carrying a bottle and a wooden coat hanger to make it appear as if they were carrying guns.
The say the Shehada brothers were looking for two men with whom they had fought with earlier. They say the brothers were intending to intimidate the men with the hidden objects.
But a surveillance video that recorded the two men in the moments before Husien was shot doesn’t appear to support these statements.
In fact, the video shows the brothers walking down the street with their arms swinging at their sides. It shows the two brothers suddenly stopping, as if being beckoned by police.
And it shows Husien catapulting out of the frame after being shot.
No bottle. No coat hanger. Not even an indication that they were not complying.
Furthermore, Samer said there were at least seven officers who had stopped them, yet it was only one officer who fired.
If it were true that Husien appeared to be reaching for a gun, then all the officers would have fired because that is what they are trained to do.
In the second shooting Tavss was involved in, fellow officer Frank Celestre also shot the suspect. But they say that suspect actually had a gun and was firing it at officers.
In the Shehada incident, Contini said that one of the officers was pointing a Taser gun at the men but didn’t fire it, which he says proves that the Shehada brothers did not come across as a threat.
Contini, who obtained the video from club Twist and released it to the media, said police had obtained it three days earlier but did not plan on releasing it.
He said they even attempted to obtain the original copy – which would have prevented any further copies to be made - but the managers at Twist insisted on a subpoena.
Police told The Miami Herald that they obtained video surveillance from “several locations” which shows the men were “looking menacing” as they were walking down the street.
But Contini said the only video that exists is the one that has been released, and it doesn’t show them looking any more menacing than anybody else walking down the street on any given night.
And he said said the domestic abuse charge is nothing but a distraction to keep the attention off the real crime, which is an unjustified police shooting of an unarmed man.
“Even if it did happen, how does that justify executing his brother three hours later?”
After the shooting, police placed Samer in an interrogation room in the Miami Beach Police Department where they kept telling him his brother was going to survive.
At about 10:30 a.m. that morning, he overheard one of the girlfriends crying that his brother had died. That was when he lost it.
“I punched the glass in the interrogation room because I wanted to grab my cell phone and call my mother,” he said. “I was going hysterical.”
He said police allowed him to use the phone but kept telling him not to bleed on the walls from the cut on his hand. He said they placed him in a car to take him to the hospital for the cut but then they turned the car around and placed him in a holding cell back at the station.
Meanwhile, police had the girlfriends sign a consent form that would allow them to search the hotel rooms. However, Contini believes they had already entered the rooms because one of them was carrying one of their purses, which he said she had left in the room.
“They signed the form long after the search had been conducted,” he said.
Contini also said that police placed the women in a separate room in the hotel under aliases.
“They did that to prevent the media to get to them,” he said.
But the media tracked them down anyway. One of the TV stations interviewed Samer’s girlfriend and she insisted that the allegations of domestic abuse were fabricated.
She even made a point of allowing the cameras to film her face and body to prove there were no marks.
However, Samer’s arrest report states that he was beating her on the corner of Washington Avenue and 13th Street. They said he hurled her to the ground and threatened to kick her in the face.
They said two “unknown men” intervened and roughed up Samer. Then they Samer and his girlfriend returned to the hotel where he continued beating her.
Police say that when Husien returned to the room with his girlfriend, the two men decided to go look for the men who had roughed up Samer. That is when they grabbed a coat hanger and a bottle.
But that still leaves some unanswered questions.
Usually, police need witnesses in cases of domestic abuse. Usually these witnesses are the victims themselves. But there doesn’t appear to be any witnesses to the alleged incident involving Samer and his girlfriend, especially that part of him beating her inside the hotel room.
Also, sometimes suspects place objects under their shirts to give the appearance of guns, but we usually hear about this happening when somebody is trying to rob a store or a bank.
Why would anybody show up to a fight acting as if they had a gun under their shirt when they didn’t?
Police also said they received several 911 calls but have yet to release the audio of any of those calls. Contini said he is working on getting that audio as well as the radio transmissions between officers and dispatch of the moments before and after the shooting.
One of the people who supposedly called 911 is Derek Reynolds, a doorman at Twist. He stated in a police report that Shehada appeared to reach for a weapon when he was stopped by police.
However, Contini said that Reynolds is applying to be an officer with the Miami Beach Police Department and he also has an uncle that works there, giving his statements little credibility.
Contini said he has been talking to other witnesses who believe the shooting was completely unjustified, including a pair of French tourists.
He urges more witnesses to come forward.
“I know people are scared because they see what the Miami Beach Police Department is capable of,” he said.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has questioned whether the shooting was racially motivated because police apparently asked witnesses whether Husien was speaking Arabic. This is not the first time the Miami Beach Police Department has been accused of racially profiling.
In fact, they get accused of it every Memorial Day Weekend when throngs of black people descend upon Miami Beach for Hip Hop Weekend because they end up making tons of arrests, many which eventually get thrown out of court.
It is not hard to understand why the Shehada family believes this to be profiling because they can’t find any other logical explanation as to why an officer would shoot an unarmed man who was not committing a crime.
The Shehada brothers were born in the United States to Palestinian parents. Like many children of immigrant parents, they straddled the line between two cultures as they pursued the American Dream. Samer, 31, is an engineer. Husien was a limousine chauffeur.
Because they are Muslims, Samer was required to wash his brother’s body to prepare it for burial. It was the hardest thing he had ever done.
“My life will never be the same,” he said. “He was my best friend. We hung out all the time.”
Contini is in the process of gathering enough evidence to file a lawsuit. And the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is also investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, the Shehada family is urging the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a proper investigation into the shooting because they have no confidence in the local authorities. They are urging people who read this article to also call the Justice Department to demand an investigation.
“They didn’t take my brother’s killing serious enough to do a proper investigation,” he said. “Four days is not a proper investigation. It’s as if my brother’s killing was a joke.”
And he can’t get over the fact that a trip to Miami Beach for a few days of fun and sun would result in such a tragedy.
“This could have happened to anybody,” he said. “Anybody.”
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