09/14/2007

Fla. officer dies of gunshot wounds, 3 officers injured

"It is a very sad day for Dade County," said Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

By Andres Viglucci and David Ovalle
The Miami Herald

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CUTLER BAY, Fla. One Miami-Dade police officer was shot dead and three others wounded late Thursday morning after they stopped a man driving erratically through a Southwest Miami-Dade County neighborhood.

The man opened fire on the officers with a high-powered weapon before fleeing, police said. Law enforcement officers from across South Florida swarmed to the scene to assist in the search for the fugitive. Streets and local highway exits were closed to seal off escape routes. Cars were stopped and trunks searched. The search later extended to Central Broward County, where the suspect was reportedly sighted at mid-afternoon.

The search for the culprit was complicated when police initially released an erroneous identification and photograph for the suspect. Almost five hours after the 11 a.m. shooting, police identified another man, 25-year-old Shawn Sherwin LaBeet, as the correct suspect. They said a second photograph they released was the correct one.


North Miami Police officers enter the search area in Cutler Bay, Fla., Thursday. A gunman armed with a high-powered weapon killed one Miami-Dade County police officer and injured three others and then fled the scene. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
At 4 p.m., Miami-Dade Cdr. Linda O''Brien said LaBeet had been spotted in Central Broward County about an hour earlier behind the wheel of a four-door, black, 2007 Pontiac Vibe, accompanied by a woman and two children. The leased car's tag is W59EPT.

O'Brien said the man earlier identified as the alleged shooter, Kevin Wehner, 30, was not involved and was in his hometown of Jacksonville on Thursday.

"It's a case of mistaken identity,''John Wehner, Kevin Wehner's uncle in New York, told The Miami Herald earlier.

He said that his nephew contacted Jacksonville police Thursday afternoon to tell them of the mixup. The uncle said his nephew had recently reported to authorities that his wallet, containing his driver's license, had been stolen.

''It appears we have been misled about (the suspect's) initial identity,'' Miami-Dade's O''Brien said. She said she was glad Wehner stepped forward quickly. "It appears LaBeet had obtained his ID."


A Miami-Dade Police officer orders a pick-up truck to stop in Cutler Bay, Fla., Thursday. (AP photo/Alan Diaz)
O'Brien blamed the earlier erroneous identity of the alleged shooter on a witness with ties to the actual suspect. "A woman associated with LaBeet lied to us," O'Brien told The Herald.

Authorities told The Herald that LaBeet was wanted in Broward County for an aggravated assault. An arrest warrant had been issued by police.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez confirmed the unidentified officer's death shortly before 2 p.m. The slain officer was shot in the neck.

"This is a very sad day for us. We need to get this guy," Alvarez said, holding up a photo of the suspect. He made his remarks hours before police released the correct name and photo of the actual suspect.

One of the less seriously wounded officers is Tomas Tundidor, 37, a Miami-Dade veteran. Police did not disclose the names of the other officers, citing the need to notify their families first. The extent of the injuries of the three wounded officers was not clear.


A Homeland Security helicopter searches the area in Cutler Bay, Fla., Thursday. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
The shooting happened a little after 11 a.m., when officers working on a burglary detail spotted the suspicious car in an apartment complex at Southwest 280th Street and 143rd Court, said Miami-Dade Police Cmdr. Linda O'Brien. The man inside stepped out of the car and opened fire on the officers with a high-powered firearm possibly an AK-47 striking four, then fled in the auto.

One of the wounded was a female officer whose leg was shattered by a bullet. She was undergoing surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

A white Honda Accord believed to be that of the shooter, its windshield shattered, was later found abandoned along a fence lining the bank of Black Creek Canal at Southwest 129th Avenue and 203rd Street in an unincorporated area west of Cutler Bay.

A weapon was recovered, O'Brien said. But the fugitive is believed to still be armed and may be wearing a bulletproof vest.

Police officers were being advised over radio that the suspect had possibly purchased three assault rifles and a handgun in March.


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez talks to reporters during a news conference in Miami, Thursday.
(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Law enforcement helicopters hovered over a nearby wooded area bordering the canal. Scores of police in cars and on foot scoured the neighborhood of the shooting.

Police also set up a security perimeter around the neighborhood at Southwest 127th Avenue between 200th and about 208th streets. Officers were wearing combat helmets and fatigues, sitting on the trunks of police cars as they patrolled the neighborhood.

Initially after the shooting, police closed every exit of the turnpike extension in South Miami-Dade south of Southwest 152nd Street. Northbound lanes have since been opened, but southbound lanes remained shut down and traffic was at a standstill.

Residents were not being allowed into the neighborhood.

Several area public schools were locked down for most of the day, but few students were on campus because it was teacher planning day. The schools were shut down at 3:15 p.m.

Miami Southridge Senior High School is being used as a Command Center by Miami-Dade Schools Police. Further information regarding the school's schedule for tomorrow will be released later, Miami-Dade public schools said.

Parents with children in the band at Miami Southridge Senior High School were being asked to pick their children up immediately, because practice has been canceled. Administrative staff would remain with these students until all have been picked up.

Herald staff writers Luisa Yanez, Andres Amerikaner, Erika Beras, Michael Vasquez, Susannah Nesmith and Rebecca Dellagloria contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 The Miami Herald

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