MIAMI — It is Memorial Day weekend one year later, but a Naples woman wounded when Miami Beach police sprayed a car with gunfire is still searching for answers.
She along with four other bystanders don't know who shot them, although they presume it was police, since officers discharged more than 100 bullets on a busy Miami Beach street. They don't know if anyone will ever be held accountable. They don't know if they will ever receive compensation — or even help with their steep medical bills.
Now, Sarah Garcia has sued the city of Miami Beach for negligence, while four others have joined together to file a public-records lawsuit demanding ballistics results and other key evidence.
Garcia, 25, was shot twice in the chaos last year, which was sparked when a squadron of police officers, some of them with fully automatic weapons, shot and killed a suspect they believed was armed and dangerous.
Garcia had made the three-hour drive from Naples with friends, and had arrived in Miami Beach just a short time before the shooting began about 4 a.m. on May 30. She and her friends were strolling and taking in the scene.
"I heard a bunch of gunshots go off and everybody was running and screaming," she said. "I got down on the ground and covered my head and then realized I was shot in my leg and my arm. I think I was in a state of shock."
Both bullets tore through her limbs and doctors had to insert plates and screws into her arm. Garcia, a patient liaison with the NCH Healthcare System, had to use a wheelchair for three months and has not been able to work since.
"She went from being someone who helped people for a living to being someone who needed that help and felt helpless," said Bradley Winston, her attorney.
The second lawsuit, which was expected to be filed last Thursday, accuses the agencies involved of deliberately withholding the records in an effort to cover up responsibility.
The plaintiffs, all of whom say they sustained permanent injuries, ultimately want compensation for their medical bills, pain and suffering.
But with the investigation into the incident still pending a year later, they are no closer to learning who shot them or why officers felt compelled to discharge over 115 bullets in a single confrontation during Urban Beach Week, the annual hip-hop-fueled gathering that returned to Miami Beach this past weekend.
The other four plaintiffs, including the family of the suspect who was killed, have yet to file a negligence suit like Garcia. First, they want access to police reports that they believe will show their clients were wounded by police, and not by the suspect, as police theorized.
The Miami Beach Police Department is investigating the incident, which involved seven officers from Miami Beach and four from Hialeah. The department has turned evidence over to the state attorney's office, which will decide whether the officers should be criminally prosecuted.
The probe is still "ongoing" according to Ed Griffith, spokesman for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
"There's nothing more that the city can add at this point," said Donald Papy, a lawyer for the city of Miami Beach.
L. Elijah Stiers, who represents a Pompano Beach man who was shot, said his client is unable to continue physical rehabilitation because he can't afford to pay for it. Carlson Saint Louis, 25, was struck by a bullet that exploded in his hip, destroying the part of his body that controls walking, running and jumping.
"I'd like to know who fired the bullet lodged in his leg, which department fired that bullet, who issued those guns — this is all information they should know by now," Stiers said.
The family of the man who was killed, Raymond Herisse, contend that evidence will show that Herisse was a victim of "police overkill." Marwan Porter, who represents Herisse's family, contends that Herisse was unarmed and had stopped his vehicle before police began shooting at him.
Herisse, 22, had been driving his blue, four-door Hyundai on Collins Avenue and 16th Street when a Hialeah police officer signaled him to pull over, Miami Beach police said at the time. Hialeah is among several police departments that help control the South Beach festival's massive crowds.
Herisse allegedly struck the officer with his car and continued south on Collins, slamming through barricades and striking cars. A video shot from a nearby apartment and posted on YouTube shows the car heading down Collins amid gunfire and skidding to a stop after four shots rang out. Officers surrounded the car with their guns drawn and, about a minute later, fired a fusillade.
Three days later, Miami Beach police announced they had found a Berretta 92-F semi-automatic pistol under a seat in Herisse's car. They said it took them a while to find it because it was so hidden, and they were dealing with witnesses and victims in a multi-block area.
Ballistics tests, which could show whether the gun was fired, have not been released.
"Even if the police had reasonable cause to use deadly force against the suspect, either to defend themselves or to defend others, they have to do so in a reasonable manner and they can't shoot into a crowd. That's just reckless," said Winston, Garcia's attorney.
Jasmine Rand, who represents Cedrick Perkins, a Tallahassee man wounded in the melee, is urging police charged with crowd control for the event this weekend to consider citizen rights and their safety.
"My client still has a bullet in his heart. Shooting hundreds of bullets is a reckless disregard for human life," she said.