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Miami police in focus at court, City Hall

Prospective jurors are questioned in a police corruption case, and a new chief takes office.

©Associated Press
January 7, 2003

MIAMI -- Attitudes toward police officers drove jury selection Monday in the trial of 11 Miami officers accused of planting guns at the scene of police shootings or covering up their actions.

The trial began the same day John F. Timoney was sworn in as police chief. The former Philadelphia chief, who was once called America's best police officer by Esquire magazine, drew a distinction between good and bad officers.

"It is critically important that a police chief support his officers when they are out there doing the right thing," he said. "However, when an officer commits a wrong act with . . . evil intent, then there must be no safe harbor for such an individual."

The 11 officers are charged as a group with a federal conspiracy to obstruct justice for allegedly planting guns after four police shootings that left three men dead and one wounded.

Prosecutors say they intended to cover up police misconduct by planting guns to make it look as if the three robbery suspects, a drug suspect and a homeless man were armed.

All 11 defendants are Hispanic. Two retired white officers who pleaded guilty to conspiracy will be star witnesses against them. Some black officers who weren't indicted plan to testify for the defense.

An attorney for two of the indicted officers said that the shootings were justified and that convictions will be hard to get.

"I'm so confident, I say pick the first 12" for jury duty, attorney Richard Sharpstein said.

During individual questioning of prospective jurors, a black truck driver was excused after he said he was afraid of retribution if he voted to convict and were stopped later by a Miami officer.

A white pharmaceuticals buyer whose best friend was an officer killed on duty thought he would side with the defendants because "dishonest (or) honest, they put their lives on the line every day." He was dismissed.

To create the jury, questionnaires were sent to 1,606 people. Of those, 211 qualified to come to court, and 39 were brought in Monday. Nine of 16 people questioned individually were told to return for final consideration.

Names of the prospective jurors were not disclosed.

The federal trial is expected to last three to five months.

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