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Shootings by Miami police investigated

Stung by accusations of abuse, corruption and cover-ups, the Miami Police Department is under intense scrutiny by federal prosecutors and the department's own investigators, who are reviewing a string of police shootings in recent years.

Last week Chief Raul Martinez dismissed a 17-year veteran of the force, saying an internal investigation into a 1997 shooting of an unarmed homeless man concluded that the officer planted a stolen gun at the scene.

Four months ago a federal grand jury indicted five officers on obstruction-of-justice charges in the 1996 death of a 73-year-old man in a barrage of 123 bullets.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is also looking into accusations involving excessive use of force, the planting of evidence and conspiracies to conceal officers' actions.

"We are continuing our investigation into a number of suspect police shootings that have occurred over the past several years in South Florida," said Guy Lewis, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

The New York Times reported that people close to the investigation said these include the 1995 deaths of two 19-year-old black men who were shot in the back as they fled the scene of a tourist robbery; the 1999 shooting of a man who pointed a toy gun at police officers; and the possible planting of a gun in the 1999 shooting of a robbery suspect.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle also has announced that her office is reviewing the shooting policies of Miami area police departments, including Miami and North Miami Beach, where a police shooting of a man in a wheelchair last month prompted angry protests.

One of the cases at the center of public attention is the death of Richard Brown, the 73-year-old man. In March 1996, police entered Brown's apartment on a drug warrant and sprayed his bedroom with 123 bullets after, they said, he fired on them. Brown was hit by nine bullets and died in a closet, slumped over a laundry basket. His great-granddaughter, Janeka, then 14, hid in a bathroom.

The indictments in the Brown case prompted renewed pleas by civic groups for further investigations into other shootings around that period.

For its part, the Miami Police Department is reviewing all police shootings in the 1990s and is cooperating with federal investigators.

Another incident that has attracted the attention of federal authorities was the 1997 shooting of a homeless man in Coconut Grove. Officers involved said the man was holding a gun, but a department review concluded that he had only a radio with him. It was this shooting that prompted the dismissal last week of an officer, Jesus Aguero, after a hearing by an internal disciplinary board.

Aguero, who had been the subject of more than 50 internal affairs complaints, was acquitted in March of planting evidence at the scene. But he is due to stand trial on grand theft charges in October; he is accused of stealing the gun found on the man from another crime scene. He and two other officers also are awaiting trial on perjury charges.