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Tourist’s Family Says Vacationer from Virginia Became Victim of Miami Beach Police Shooting

posted on: Jun 26, 2009

Swim trunks for the beach, T-shirts for the heat and a pair of new, black Prada loafers for going out. That’s what Virginia limo driver Husien Shehada packed for his 5-day vacation to Miami. He was like any 29-year-old tourist vacationing with his girlfriend, his brother said.

But Shehada didn’t go home with a sunburn or a suitcase full of flamingo knickknacks. The day before his flight back, at 4:30 a.m. on June 14, police shot and killed him on a palm tree-lined street in Miami Beach as he walked with his brother two blocks from the ocean. Shehada’s brother said he was unarmed.

In the hours after the shooting, Samer Shehada says, all the members of their vacation party were questioned — Husien’s girlfriend, Samer’s girlfriend and Samer. The women were asked if he spoke Arabic.

“I don’t know why they would even ask that question,” said Samer Shehada, 31, during an interview with The Associated Press.

The brothers are of Palestinian descent. Washington’s American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee calls the question “troubling” and wants to know if Husien Shehada’s background had anything to do with the shooting. The Miami Beach police and State Attorney’s office are investigating and say they can’t release information until they are finished.

Police cleared the officer involved, Adam Tavss, to return to duty. The day he returned, June 18, he and other officers were involved in a second shooting death. This time they were responding to a report of an armed carjacking of a taxi. Police reported that a man, Lawrence McCoy, drove the taxi the wrong way on a bridge leading from Miami Beach and exchanged gunfire with police before being shot.

Police have not said if Tavss fired the fatal shot in that incident. He and another officer were temporarily put on paid administrative leave for firing their weapons. Both are back at work at desk jobs, said police spokesman Det. Juan Sanchez.

Before this month’s deaths, the last time police shot and killed anyone on Miami Beach was 2003, Sanchez said. That man was armed with a knife.

Shehada’s family and a lawyer they hired say Husien Shehada was never a threat to police. He wasn’t a violent man, they said. He had spent a short time in jail for marijuana possession in 2003 and had a few other minor brushes with the law. He lived with his mother in Woodbridge, Va., taking care of the bills and helping her with a condition that sometimes leaves her short of breath.

After their father died 16 years ago from a heart attack, Husien and Samer were father figures to their younger sisters Nasrean, 25, and Yasmean, 21. Husien was six feet tall, Samer says, but people called him “teddy bear.”

It was that easygoing, friendly personality that made him a good limo driver. After years of working as a car salesman, he started his own car service three years ago. He bought a new beige Lincoln Town Car in December, and used it to ferry people to inaugural events.

Business was going well, and Shehada wanted to take a break to go to Miami with his girlfriend, Natasha Johnson. He told his brother he should come with his girlfriend, too.

“We can have so much fun together,” Samer Shehada remembered his brother saying.

And they did: staying in an oceanfront hotel, ordering food brought out to them on the beach, shopping at an outlet mall. On Saturday night they went to a local club where they spent three hours dancing and having drinks.

About 4:30, the four went out again so Husien Shehada could buy cigarettes. They crossed paths with police on Washington Avenue, the same street that houses Miami Beach police headquarters.

Police said officers had been sent out to investigate a caller’s report of a person with a gun on the street.

Samer says police called out, cursing and ordering the brothers to stop. Samer said he and his brother stopped, but police fired anyway. A black and white surveillance video from a nearby club shows the two stopping by a lamppost. Then Shehada falls back and out of the frame.

Samer says they raised their hands but didn’t have time to say anything before police fired. In the video, which does not have sound, it’s hard to tell.

Husien was taken to the hospital. Samer and the women were taken for questioning.

After interviewing Samer’s girlfriend, police charged him with domestic battery, saying that the pair had argued earlier in the evening and that Samer punched her. The family’s lawyer, John Contini, disputes the charge and says Samer’s girlfriend had no bruises.

It wasn’t until hours after the shooting that Samer learned his brother was dead, he said.

Jessica Gresko
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