A 30-year-old Miami police officer goes on trial here Monday, charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of a black motorcyclist fleeing a routine traffic stop. The deaths of Clement Anthony Lloyd and his passenger last January on an inner-city street touched off three days of rioting.
But also on trial will be Miami itself, an ethnically divided city with a tradition of reacting violently to jury verdicts perceived as unfair. Twice in this decade white police officers have been acquitted in the deaths of black men, and twice the city's inner-city neighborhoods have erupted in fiery protest. The worst of those riots occurred in May, 1980, when 18 people died in three days of mayhem.
The officer, William Lozano, is a white Latino. If he is found not guilty, history suggests there will be trouble. "If a group of individuals plan on having a riot," warned Miami Police Chief Perry Anderson, "we will be ready."
Indeed, over the last several weeks extraordinary preparations have been made to deal with what many seem to feel is inevitable. The county's chief judge has been asked to delay public disclosure of a verdict for up to 24 hours so that police can be mobilized. The city's landmark Orange Bowl has been designated a possible detention center so that any rioters arrested would not be returned to the street. Police have borrowed two armored personnel carriers and spent $72,000 to buy 700 gas masks.
As incendiary as the Lozano case is, there are other factors heightening tensions in Miami as well. Among them are Friday's U.S. Senate verdict of guilty in impeachment proceedings against black federal judge Alcee L. Hastings, who was ordered removed from the bench; the Nov. 7 Miami mayoral and City Council elections, which include a bitter contest between former commissioner Joe Carollo and black incumbent Miller Dawkins, and a continuing influx of refugees from Cuba and Haiti.
For months, community relations workers have been walking neighborhood streets, talking about the case and sounding out opinions.
"Sure, there's anger out there," says Willie Sims, crisis coordinator of the Dade County Community Relations Board. "But this community needs to get beyond that. We need to learn to live together and stop shooting each other."
Framing the Lozano case are circumstances eerily similar to those surrounding the trial of Miami police officer Luis Alvarez, who was acquitted in the 1982 shooting of a young black man in an arcade in Miami's Overtown section, one block from the spot where Clement Lloyd died.
In both cases, the police officers are Latino, the victims are black, the charge is manslaughter and the defense will pivot on a split-second decision to shoot, predicated on what the officers contend was a fear for their lives. And, once again, the case is colored by deep-seated hostilities between Miami's Latino and black communities.
"Tension between the Hispanic and black communities is a factor here," says Max Castro, executive director of Greater Miami United, a community relations group. "There is a large Hispanic group that participates in the affluence and power of the community and is also heavily involved in policing. And that does make blacks feel more displaced."
Forty-four percent of Miami's 1,093 police officers are Latino, and less than 14% are black. While those numbers roughly approximate the ethnic demographics of Miami and of Dade County, the larger metropolitan area around it, blacks are woefully under-represented in both political and economic clout.
The resentment in the black community over the continuing Latinization of Dade County--and government aid to Cuban immigrants, in particular--surfaces regularly.
Top-gun trial attorney Roy Black, who won Alvarez's acquittal, is handling Lozano's defense, too. He has charged that the speed in which two counts of manslaughter with a firearm were filed against his client--seven days after the shooting--reveals State Atty. Janet Reno's desire to placate the black community.
Usually, he says, cases involving police-civilian shootings follow lengthy investigations, and then go before a grand jury.
"It was obvious from the beginning that this was not going to be a fair investigation," Black says. He has asked that the trial be moved out of Miami, claiming that the case "has generated a higher level of pretrial publicity than any prior case in Miami history."
How can the trial be held in Miami, asks Black, "if the jurors think, 'If I find Lozano not guilty, I'll cause a riot'? It's not fair."
Prosecutor John Hogan is prepared to vigorously oppose Black's motion. "That's all conjecture," he says. "There is no threat hanging over (potential) jurors." Black leaders also counsel against moving the trial. "A change of venue just adds to the perception of unfairness," Sims says.
The trial is expected to last two months. Jury selection alone could take weeks.
Once seated, the six-person jury will hear how the incident began, early on the night of Jan. 16, as Lozano and his partner, Dawn Campbell, were stopped on an Overtown street to take a report on a missing license plate registration decal. As Lozano searched in the trunk of his squad car for a report form, he heard the roar of an approaching motorcycle, which was being chased by another police officer.
On the motorcycle was Lloyd, the driver, a 23-year-old car wash manager, and a passenger, Allan Blanchard, 24.
Accounts differ as to whether Lozano knew police were in pursuit of the motorcycle. But as the motorcycle drew near, Lozano stepped out from behind the car, drew his gun, and--from about 70 feet away--fired.
"I got scared, thinking it was going to run me over," he said in a statement to police later. "I drew my gun and fired one round. I don't know if I hit him or not."
Lozano did hit Lloyd. A bullet from his Glock 9-millimeter automatic pistol struck Lloyd high on the left front side of his head, 3 1/2 inches in front of his ear. The slug tore through the visor of the motorcyclist's helmet and lodged in the back of his head. The 1000-cc Kawasaki Ninja then plowed into the front of an oncoming Buick.
Lloyd was dead at the scene. Blanchard died of head injuries the next day.
Deciding Lozano's guilt or innocence on the charge of manslaughter, which can apply to either an intentional killing or an accidental death caused by gross negligence, will force jurors to wrestle with some tough questions. Did Lozano fear for his life, as the defense will claim? Did he know Lloyd was being pursued by police? Did Lozano fire at the oncoming motorcycle in violation of department policy on deadly force, which states that officers should avoid shooting at moving vehicles and should not put themselves in danger?
Lozano, a Colombian-American, has been a Miami police officer for four years. His wife, Ana, is also a Miami cop, as are two of his brothers. A third brother is a county corrections officer.
Since being charged and relieved of duty with pay, Lozano has been active in raising money for his defense, appearing at street fairs and benefit breakfasts sponsored by Latino groups and on Spanish-language radio. A recent radio-thon over WOCN-AM Radio El Sol, for example, reportedly elicited pledges of almost $100,000.
In Miami's black community, meanwhile, Sims and others are promoting discussion of the trial while worrying that the military-style preparations for its aftermath could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"The message we're trying to send is that there is a better way than through violence," said Sims, a veteran community worker who admits he was once a rock and bottle thrower himself. "But we've had so many (riots) in the past. So we're hoping for the best, and planning for the worst."