Retired officer admits lying in Miami police shooting probe

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 1:37 a.m.

MIAMI - A key prosecution witness in the corruption trial of 11 fellow police officers testified Tuesday that he lied to investigators when he said he saw guns in the hands of two robbery suspects seconds before they were killed by police.

William Hames, now retired, said he met over lunch with five other Miami officers the next day and mapped out a cover story for them.

Federal prosecutors charge two guns were planted near the victims of the 1995 shooting as well as three later police shootings. The 11 officers are charged with conspiracy for allegedly planting guns or covering those acts.

"I'd just witnessed an incredibly stupid act on somebody's part," Hames testified, without saying anything about planted guns. "I ran through a scenario that I thought would cover the shooting."

But the defense raised questions about Hames' credibility in 40 minutes of cross-examination before the trial ended for the day.

Hames, 55, is one of two officers who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the shooting cover-ups in hopes of getting probation. He also hopes to keep his police pension of $31,000 a year after taxes plus a $180,000 lump sum.

In testimony for the prosecution, Hames said that the hands of the 19-year-old robbery suspects were empty, but he told the other officers over lunch that he would say he saw both with guns as they fled police.

He recalled defendant Jorge Garcia at one point during lunch saying, "I didn't see that." Hames said he responded, "It's to our benefit if all the stories are not exactly identical."

Defendant Jesse Aguero told everyone at the table, "That's why we call him Bill Shakespeare."

No one objected and no one walked out of the lunch meeting, Hames said.

"I knew I was, and apparently everyone else was, adhering to the code of silence," Hames testified. Afterward, he said he believed "I was not going to be handed up, turned in, by the other people involved in the shooting."

But what Hames didn't say was important to the defense. With the jury out of the room, Hames told U.S. District Judge Alan Gold that he didn't see fellow officers plant guns on people shot by police or hear them talk about it.

Based on that, the judge called some of the testimony prosecutors were seeking "extremely weak." He decided Hames couldn't testify about the other officers' states of mind or "that the others agreed to do something."

Prosecutor Curtis Miner argued that, after the lunch meeting, Hames "had a valid perception that he knew they could be trusted not to turn him in."

Defense attorney Sam Rabin countered, "He is essentially speculating and really building on scant evidence."

Hames acknowledged he retired in 1998 after putting a gun to the head of a bus driver during an alcoholic blackout. He also admitted firing a round into the air after drinking on duty during a prostitution sting.

The questionable shootings covered by the indictment left three men dead and a fourth wounded in the mid-1990s, a time when the city was under international pressure to crack down on roving gangs of armed robbers preying on tourists.

Other shootings include a 120-shot SWAT-team killing of a 72-year-old man the defense called "an armed drug dealer," the wounding of a drunken homeless man carrying a Walkman and a foot-chase shooting survived by a purse-snatching suspect.

Community outrage over dozens of officer-involved shootings has led to the police chief's resignation last November, policy changes, the creation of a civilian shooting review board and millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements.

The police scandal is the city's worst since the 1980s when rogue officers stole cocaine from drug dealers to resell. More than 100 officers were tainted by that scandal.

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