Man killed by Sunrise police in drug raid had 2 ounces of marijuana
South Florida Sun-Sentinal | August 10, 2005
By Brian Haas & Kevin Smith
The cop that talks about the victim having a gun that the cop is obviously lying; his body language is blatant and he fumbles his words. This story, as sad as it is, at least incorporates the excuse of a gun. All the time, children, dogs and innocent people are shot by SWAT teams, in the wrong houses, unarmed and terrified.
SUNRISE -- Police seized 2 ounces of marijuana at the home of Anthony Diotaiuto after shooting him 10 times, according to information on the drug raid released Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, while many friends and relatives of the 23-year-old bartender and student mourned him at a Davie funeral home, others appeared at a Sunrise City Commission meeting to demand an explanation for the fatal raid.
"Do 2 ounces of marijuana constitute a death warrant?" asked Sunrise resident William de Larm, a friend of Diotaiuto's.
Earlier, police officials released a summary of the information they used to obtain the search warrant, listed what was seized from the house, and detailed what police say happened between Diotaiuto and SWAT officers Friday morning.
Neighbors and family dispute those details.
Diotaiuto, 23, was killed hours after he got home from work by a SWAT team looking for drugs. Friends and family say Diotaiuto worked two jobs, went to church regularly, and was dedicated to giving himself and his mother, Marlene Whittier, a better life.
Lt. Robert Voss, spokesman for the Sunrise Police Department, gave this account of the raid:
The SWAT team knocked on Diotaiuto's door and "announc[ed] their presence" before smashing in his door about 6:15 a.m. They found Diotaiuto in his living room and ordered him to "freeze" and get on the ground.
Instead, Voss said, Diotaiuto fled to his bedroom and "armed himself" with a loaded handgun. Voss said it is unclear whether Diotaiuto pointed the gun at officers.
Officers Sean Visners and Andre Bruna shot Diotaiuto dead. They shot him 10 times, leaving wounds to his head, chest, torso and limbs, according to Broward Medical Examiner Joshua Perper.
In addition to the marijuana, Voss said, officers seized plastic bags and weight scales from Diotaiuto's home. Possession of 2 ounces of marijuana is a felony, according to state statutes.
The officers' personnel records were not available Tuesday, but Visners has been with Sunrise since 1997 and on the SWAT team since 1999, Voss said. He was Officer of the Month for May 2000. Bruna has been with the department since 1999 and on the SWAT team since 2001.
Voss said both officers have no history of disciplinary problems, and neither has been involved in any previous shootings. They are on paid leave pending an investigation.
Neighbors who said they were up at 6:15 a.m. when the raid occurred said they heard the crash of the front door being smashed, but no yelling announcing the presence of police.
Rudy Strauss, Diotaiuto's next-door neighbor, came to his window when his wife noticed the SWAT team descend on the house in the sleepy Sunrise Golf Village. No words were exchanged outside Diotaiuto's home, he said.
"I heard this loud bang, and I saw a flash," Strauss said Tuesday. "I never heard them say `Police.' If somebody were pounding on the door, I would definitely hear that, or if they yelled, `Police, police!'"
The Police Department also gave a brief description of the information that led to the search warrant. Voss said that the department had the house under surveillance and made at least one "controlled" drug purchase there. Voss did not have more details about the search warrant.
The police version did little to allay anger at the department's handling of the raid.
"Nothing adds up," Brian Kickbush, Whittier's boyfriend, said during the visitation at Fred Hunter Funeral Home. "If they announced themselves, I guess all the neighbors are all liars."
At the Sunrise meeting, 15 people stood, many wearing black armbands adorned with a golden heart, as de Larm told the five-member commission about how Diotaiuto was planning his first real vacation. The trip would have included a visit to his 91-year-old grandmother.
"Now, she has to come to Florida to bury her 23-year-old grandson," de Larm said, as family members and friends wept behind him.
Saying the shooting made him ashamed to be a Sunrise resident, de Larm said the officers had too much aggression and too little judgment, using a search warrant and Diotaiuto's weapon permit to create an encounter far too likely to have the tragic outcome it did.
Mayor Steve Feren declined to address the allegations directly, saying the incident has yet to be fully investigated. The response was not what Diotaiuto's family had hoped to hear.
"We did not get what we expected," said Sarah Spivey, a cousin of Diotaiuto's who came to Florida from Washington state after the shooting. "We wanted our side of the story to be heard. Anthony was a good person and he's being portrayed as a criminal."
Her cousin would never have responded the way police said he did if the officers clearly identified themselves, she said, and the information released by the department left her with little faith in whatever investigation the Sunrise police might conduct.
"They had their minds made up about my cousin before they even went into the house," she said.
Voss said that people should be patient as the Police Department and the Broward State Attorney's Office investigate the matter.
"The department grieves for the family. We grieve for our officers, too. Taking a human life isn't easy to do," Voss said. "It will be investigated."