Miami Officer Acquitted; City Remains Calm


This city remained mostly calm but edgy Friday night after a jury in Orlando, Fla., found suspended Miami police officer William Lozano not guilty in his retrial on manslaughter charges stemming from the shooting deaths of two black men four years ago.

That shooting, in January, 1989, was followed by three days of rioting in the inner-city Overtown neighborhood where it occurred, and the case has haunted all of Miami ever since.

Police in riot gear were on alert Friday night, and six National Guard units had been called up.


Although crowds gathered at some street corners in Overtown and nearby Liberty City to express anger at the verdict, no widespread violence was reported, and frequent rain showers helped keep some residents off the streets.

A police substation was attacked by a crowd, but police spokesman Angelo Bitsis said 150 officers turned back the attack and made an undetermined number of arrests.

Police also fired tear gas and rousted youths from one Overtown building. Windows were smashed out of several cars.

Blocks away, two Miami WCIX-TV journalists were attacked in their car by people beating it with rocks, bats and a metal pipe.

By the end of rush hour, police had barricaded several exits from Interstate 95, permitting only residents to enter those neighborhoods.

Officials canceled the Tampa Bay-Miami professional indoor football game at the Miami Arena, on the edge of Overtown. But a Florida Marlins home baseball game was played in Miami.


Gov. Lawton Chiles urged calm, saying that “violence is a destructive force that achieves absolutely nothing.”

As the verdicts were read in the Orlando courtroom, Lozano, 33, leaped to his feet and hugged one of his defense attorneys, Mark Seiden, as several of his relatives and friends broke into tears. He then turned to hug his wife, Ana, who is also a Miami police officer, his parents and two brothers.

In a brief press conference afterward, the Colombian-born Lozano thanked God “for giving me a new opportunity in my life to start all over again. I’m just very happy that I got my life back.”

Lozano’s chief defense attorney, Roy E. Black, said: “Even under times of stress, commotion and conflict, people can get a fair trial. I’m proud to be associated with this case.”

Immediately after the verdict was read, Roberto Martinez, the acting U.S. attorney in Miami, announced that the U.S. Justice Department would look into charging Lozano with violating the slain men’s civil rights.

That type of prosecution was used successfully earlier this year to convict two of the Los Angeles Police Department officers in the beating of Rodney G. King.


U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, who heads the Justice Department, was Dade County’s state attorney when Lozano was originally charged.

This was Lozano’s second trial on state charges that he acted in a “wanton and reckless” manner when he pulled his service revolver to fire a single shot at a speeding motorcycle heading in his direction.

Driver Clement A. Lloyd, 23, died instantly when the bullet struck his head. His passenger, Allan Blanchard, 24, died the next day of injuries sustained when the motorcycle crashed.

Lozano said he fired in self-defense as the motorcycle swerved in his direction. But a Miami jury convicted him of two counts of manslaughter in December, 1989, and he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

That verdict was overturned by an appeals court, which found that the trial was unfair because jurors feared a not-guilty verdict would lead to more violence.

His retrial was eventually moved to Orlando in an effort to seat a six-person jury untainted by fears that its verdict might provoke a riot.


While the National Guard troops ordered up Wednesday by Chiles were standing by, Miami and Dade County police in full riot gear showed a high profile in predominantly black neighborhoods. That show of force angered some.

“These police with riot gear should get off the streets,” said community organizer Willie Sims. “We live here. We don’t need this type of foolishness right now.”

For weeks, community leaders and the African American Council of Christian Clergy had been attempting to lay the groundwork for calm in the event of a not-guilty verdict.

After expressing his disappointment with the trial’s outcome, even Assistant Dade State Atty. John Hogan, the chief prosecutor in the case, appealed for peace. “We’ve been arguing all along that Miami has matured,” he said. “This will be the ultimate test.”

Hogan said the prosecution was weakened by the passage of time. “Ours is an eyewitness case, and it’s been four years.” he said.

The jurors, consisting of a black woman, a Latino man, a Latino woman, and three non-Latino whites--a man and two women--agreed that the state did not prove the deaths were caused by Lozano’s intentional act or culpable negligence.


Although the trial was televised, the jurors were never shown, and under rules laid down by Dade Circuit Judge W. Thomas Spencer, they are not to be identified by the news media for six months.

The verdict was announced at 4:45 p.m., four hours after jurors signaled they had reached a decision, in compliance with an order from Spencer designed to give Miami police and National Guard troops time to assume riot-ready positions in neighborhoods that have been rocked by violence four times since 1980.

In a summation Thursday that took almost three hours, Black was methodical, professorial and at times impassioned in defense of his client.

Gesturing toward Lozano, who sat expressionless at the defense table, Black asked jurors: “If one of our police officers is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt, who is?”

Black, who gained national celebrity with his successful 1991 defense of William Kennedy Smith on rape charges, ridiculed the prosecution’s contention that Lozano sought a confrontation.

“This is the man they want you to believe is wanton, reckless, a criminal?” he asked, noting that after the shooting, officers driving Lozano to the police station “had to stop the car so he could throw up.”


A recurrent theme of the defense was that Miami’s inner-city streets are dangerous and that police face a never-ending risk. Black once smacked his open palm with a fist as he argued: “Their life is on the line, and when they have to make that split-second decision, we can’t make that into a crime.”

At one point, as Black asked jurors to “be there” for an officer in the service of the public, a single tear rolled down Lozano’s cheek.

Black did not put his client or any other witnesses on the stand, telling the jury that the state had failed to prove its case.

Although Lozano remained mute in this trial, he did testify in December, 1989, saying that he drew his 9-millimeter gun and fired a single shot from the hip because the motorcycle was coming directly at him and he feared for his life.

Said Black: “He wasn’t out there intending to kill somebody. He was out there defending himself.”

Hogan told jurors that prosecuting Lozano for manslaughter did not translate into an indictment of all police officers. But, he said, Lozano was a police officer who broke the law.


“He fired for absolutely no reason,” Hogan said. “It was absolutely an unnecessary, unreasonable killing. Those men could be alive today.”

Hogan reminded jurors that all five of the eyewitnesses presented by the prosecution described Lozano’s actions in similar fashion: Each demonstrated how they saw him grip his pistol with two hands and track the speeding motorcycle before the shot. “It wasn’t self-defense,” he said. “He tracked and aimed. He simply was not thinking.”

Lozano’s retrial had been delayed several times as Spencer and various judges wrangled over where it should be held. Spencer’s first choice was Orlando, a city with a black population of 10%, about half that of Miami.

But in the aftermath of the Rodney King case and the Los Angeles riots, he shifted it to Tallahassee, the state capital, where blacks make up about 20% of the population. After several more venue shifts, the case finally settled in Orlando.

The Shooting That Shook Miami

Miami police officer William Lozano was on trial in the 1989 deaths of a motorcyclist and his passenger, who died after Lozano shot the driver. Lozano claimed he fired in self defense because the motorcycle was bearing down on him.


Prosecution experts and most eye witnesses said the motorcycle was in the proper, northbound lane until Lozano fired his shot. The motorcycle then veered into the southbound lane and into a parked car. Motorcycle’s estimated speed: 40-45 m.p.h.



Lozano and his partner said the motorcycle was in the southbound lane all along, and the officer had to fire to avoid being run over. A defense expert said it then could have swerved into the northbound lane and the parked car. Motorcycle’s estimated speed: 70 m.p.h.

Key Events in the Case

The ’89 shooting: Lozano shoots the driver of a speeding motorcycle, which then crashes into a car. Both riders are killed. Lozano says the speeding motorcycle swerved to hit him and he fired to save his life.

Violence erupts: Within an hour of the shooting, residents of Miami’s Overtown neighborhood begin pelting police officers and emergency workers with rocks and bottles. Three days of rioting follow.

Officer is charged: Lozano faces tow counts of manslaughter.

First trial: He is convicted of the charges in December, 1989, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Verdict overturned: Appeals court orders a new trial in 1991, ruling that the Miami jury was pressured by the possibility of more violence.

The retrial: Not-guilty verdict reached Friday after seven hours of deliberation by a jury of three whites, two Latinos and one black.


Next Step: Civil Rights Probe

After Friday’s verdict, black community leaders immediately demanded that the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami file civil rights charges against Lozano for the incident. Acting U.S. Atty. Roberto Martinez issued a short statement saying that the Justice Department would launch a civil rights investigation.

Sources: Trial depositions, the Miami Herald