Only two people saw what happened inside Jamar Rollins’ Nissan Altima on the night of December 30, 2016: Rollins and Andrew Garcia, the Miami-Dade Police detective who shot him.
Two years later, what transpired between them is still unclear. Rollins died at the scene; Garcia refused to give a statement to investigators.
Because of that uncertainty, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office closed its case in November without prosecuting Garcia. But despite dodging criminal charges, Garcia now faces a civil lawsuit from Rollins’ family, who says the shooting was excessive and unjustified.
“As we’ve seen too many times around America, it’s time to stop shooting and killing African-Americans who we say did not pose a threat of harm to the officer,” says Alan Goldfarb, an attorney for Rollins’ relatives.
At the time of the shooting, Miami-Dade Police said little by way of explanation, except that they had recovered a gun at the scene that allegedly belonged to Rollins. However, the new lawsuit questions the validity of that evidence. Rollins’ relatives and their attorneys say 21-year-old Rollins was unarmed on the night he was shot. Worse, they believe the recovered firearm was planted by the cops to provide a justification for the shooting.
“As a result of [Rollins] being unarmed when shot repeatedly, a ‘throw-down’ weapon was placed at the scene for purposes of supporting a defense, or to create a defense, of self-defense in the use of deadly force,” the suit says.
A spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department declined to comment on the allegations, citing the pending litigation. Garcia remains on the force; the case is still being investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs Section.
A November closeout memo from the State Attorney’s Office provides the most comprehensive look at the shooting so far. According to investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Garcia was undercover in an unmarked vehicle with Detective Jesus Coto when they spotted a black Nissan Altima speeding and then driving through a stop sign in Perrine. The officers flashed their lights and attempted to pull over the Altima, at which point they say a front-seat passenger, Devin Smith, leaned out of the window and pointed a gun toward them.
Shortly after, Smith bolted from the Altima, and Garcia exited the police vehicle to chase him. The state’s report says Garcia stopped at the passenger side of the Altima, where he came face-to-face with Rollins, who was in the driver’s seat. Still inside the police car, Coto says he saw Garcia fire several shots at Rollins. According to Coto, Rollins exited the Altima, threw a gun on the street, and then collapsed.
FDLE interviewed several people who witnessed the shooting, including three who said Rollins was outside of the Altima with his hands up or outstretched when Garcia shot him. But the state’s report describes those statements as “totally inconsistent” with the forensic evidence. According to the autopsy, Rollins was shot mostly on the right side of his body; Garcia fired from the vehicle’s passenger side while Rollins was still in the driver’s seat. A bullet hole was also found in the driver’s side door.
The rest of the evidence was insufficient to establish exactly what happened. Neither Garcia nor Coto was wearing body cameras, and no video footage could be recovered from neighbors. DNA evidence doesn’t prove whether the gun belonged to Rollins: A sample from the firearm’s grip was inconclusive, and Rollins’ DNA was not found on the sights of the gun.
Because Garcia refused to speak with investigators, prosecutors say they can’t be sure whose story to believe. According to the closeout memo:
Detective Garcia declined to provide a sworn statement or proffer, and statements from witnesses do not clearly establish the detective’s reasons for shooting. Therefore, we do not have sufficient evidence to determine whether this detective was legally justified in the use of deadly force by firing his weapon. Nonetheless, given the circumstances, we cannot in good faith proceed with criminal charges against Detective Andrew Garcia.
Goldfarb, the attorney for Rollins’ family, says he finds it hard to believe that a man who had been shot several times would have the wherewithal to get out of his vehicle and throw his weapon across the street, as Coto stated.
“I don’t buy the story,” Goldfarb says. “I just don’t accept it.”
Neither Garcia nor the police department has responded to the lawsuit.