Family: Police victim bipolar — (The Miami Herald)

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The Miami Herald

Mar. 15, 2005

BY CHARLES RABIN

The shooting of Cesar Rada by a Miami-Dade police officer was the department’s 17th shooting since 1999 involving a mentally ill person.

Cesar Rada — aspiring actor and model, and a psychology student at Florida International University — had bipolar disorder and was schizophrenic, his family says.

Sunday night, he had his hands raised and was unarmed as he walked toward a Miami-Dade police officer who killed him during a tense confrontation in a Kendall yard, police and witnesses said.

The officer, Jeffrey Price, 23, was placed on administrative leave Monday while Miami-Dade’s internal affairs and homicide units and the state attorney’s office investigate the department’s 17th shooting involving a mentally ill resident since 1999.

Augusto Rada, 60, said that Cesar, 31, began a downward spiral on Friday, culminating in a family member calling police because they could not control Cesar, a stocky, muscular man at 5 feet 10 inches tall who dabbled in bodybuilding.

Still, Augusto Rada maintains the shooting was not necessary.

He said Cesar walked slowly with both hands in the air to within two or three feet of the officer, who had his gun drawn. Cesar kept saying, ”What are you going to do, shoot me?” said his father, who witnessed the incident.

”The police were completely at fault,” Augusto Rada said. ‘They don’t think any other way. I said, `Why did you kill him?’ The policeman froze.”

KEY QUESTION

Why Rada was shot to death is at the forefront of the police investigation.

”He was unarmed,” police spokesman Randy Rossman said. “He was shot multiple times by Officer Price and he died on the scene.”

Rossman said Price, on the force for 18 months, was not equipped with a Taser, a 50,000-volt stun gun that incapacitates a suspect, because he had not received the training yet. He did carry an expandable baton but did not use it.

Price’s police union attorney, Mike Cornely, went to the Rada house after the shooting, but said he didn’t get to speak with Price directly before his client was taken to see a department psychologist. Price’s personnel records were not released Monday.

Cornely said he heard Price was backed into a corner by Rada, until he “felt [Rada] was going to overpower him and he had no other reasonable alternative.”

Police have had several run-ins with Rada.

Department spokeswoman Nelda Fonticiella said that since 2001, officers have answered at least 11 domestic disturbance calls involving Rada at the family home at 8950 SW 56th Ter.

County records show his only arrest was in July 1998 for presenting a fake drug prescription. As a first-time offender, he completed a pretrial intervention program and has no felony record.

Rada’s death is the 17th documented shooting of a mentally ill resident by Miami-Dade police in the past six years, according to records kept by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Steven Leifman, who heads the court’s mental health committee.

Two years ago, Miami-Dade police were criticized after two mentally ill men were shot dead within a week. One allegedly was holding a knife, the other was threatening police with a shard of glass.

County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, then the police director, had every officer in the department undergo 16 hours of training on how to deal with the mentally ill.

MORE TRAINING

That changed after the shooting of Randy Baker last October. Under the guidance of Leifman, Miami-Dade has begun giving its officers more intensive Crisis Intervention Team training. At least 165 field training officers will become first responders in dealing with the mentally ill by this summer.

CIT is a federally funded program that involves 40 hours of teaching at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The training has been effective in Miami, where despite more than 3,000 calls a year, no mentally ill resident has been shot since 2001.

In January, a Miami-Dade grand jury report called on lawmakers to reverse decades of failed policies toward the mentally ill, listing dozens of recommendations for the criminal justice system.

One of the strongest recommendations was that police continue to use Tasers to subdue volatile suspects. ”It saves lives!” the report said.

Augusto Rada said that after his son became exceedingly aggressive on Friday, he sent his wife to stay with relatives.

”I could see it in his eyes,” he said, adding that his son hadn’t had such an ”episode” since December 2003.

The father said Cesar had run out of medication before the weekend and was scheduled to see his doctor today to refill his prescriptions, including the antianxiety pill Temazepam. He said his son took three other pills a day.

Off the drugs, Cesar’s rage was so intense that his father, his older brother Carlos and a brother-in-law couldn’t control him and decided to call police Sunday night.

‘He kept saying, `Leave me alone.’ He told his brother to get away or ‘I’ll kill you,’ ” Augusto Rada said.

When two police officers arrived at the Rada residence, they asked Cesar to come toward them several times, according to Augusto Rada.

Cesar did, with his arms raised. He got within a few feet before Price fired at least three times, hitting Cesar in the upper chest and throat area, his father said.

Rose and Raul Garcia have been the Radas’ neighbors for six years. Raul said he ran outside after hearing gunshots.

”It’s not uncommon to see [Cesar] get upset,” Garcia said. “Usually, they just call the police and they take him to the hospital.”

Trying to re-create the scene Monday, Augusto Rada began to sob uncontrollably as he stood in front of a poinciana tree in the front yard where he said Cesar was shot.

”He had nothing, no weapon,” the father said. “How could they do this?”