On Feb. 10, 2011, in Miami, police detective Reynaldo Goyos was working with a dozen undercover officers taking part in a sting at a local strip club known to be frequented by gang members.
Shortly after 11 p.m., one of the undercover officers spotted what she described as two intoxicated men being ejected from the club. Travis McNeil and his cousin Kareem Williams stumbled across the parking lot and climbed into a burgundy Kia Sorrento. As they drove off, a half-dozen officers, including Goyos, followed them, worried that the men would come back and cause a disturbance, accord- ing to an arbitrator’s account that was based on witness statements and internal police files.
“We get three or four blocks from the club, and all of a sudden police was surrounding us,” Williams told The Washington Post.
Goyos drew his gun and got out of the passenger seat of an unmarked Chevrolet Suburban. “Show me your hands!” he yelled.
“I looked at the driver,” Goyos would later tell police internal affairs investigators. “He was staring right at me. He looked like he wasn’t paying attention, like he’s very incoherent. [He] was disobeying my . . . commands.”
Goyos told internal affairs that as he approached the driver’s side door he could see that both men had their hands in their laps. But then McNeil, in the driver’s seat, reached toward his waistband and then toward the floorboard of the vehicle, according to the officer.
Standing about two feet from the Kia’s open driver’s-side window, Goyos fired three times — striking McNeil in the chest and Williams in the wrist and hip. McNeil was dead at the scene.
On the driver’s side floorboard, investigators found two cellphones. There were no weapons in the vehicle.
None of the five other officers surrounding the car, who also had drawn their weapons, had fired. They would all later tell internal affairs investigators that Goyos was the only officer with a clear view into the car. The shooting quickly drew local media scrutiny.
The department completed its internal investigation in November 2012. The next month, the city’s Firearms Review Board — made up of three assistant chiefs, a police major, and a police attorney — concluded that the shooting was not justified. The board said that neither Goyos nor anyone else had been in imminent danger and questioned whether the physical evidence supported Goyos’s version of events.
Police officials concluded that the location of McNeil’s fatal wound was inconsistent with Goyos’s assertion that he saw a black object in McNeil’s hand.
In January 2013, then-Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa fired Goyos, who had been with the department since 2005, saying he should have sought cover instead of approaching the vehicle.
Goyos appealed, prompting a four-day arbitration hearing in late 2013. Goyos and his union attorney argued that Goyos did not violate the department’s use-of-force policy and reasserted Goyos’s claim that he had seen a black object in McNeil’s hand.
“There was no misconduct on the part of officer Goyos,” said Eugene Gibbons, Goyos’s attorney, who has defended many police officers accused of wrongdoing. “He was simply doing his job to the best of his ability that evening.”
In a text message to The Post, Goyos declined to be interviewed and added, “It was all political.”
In August 2014, arbitrator Martin Soll, a labor lawyer, sided with Goyos’s legal team, writing that the physical evidence supported Goyos’s account and that there was no evidence that his actions had violated department policy.
“Just or proper cause did not exist to discharge or otherwise discipline City of Miami Detective Reynaldo Goyos,” Soll wrote.
Soll ordered that Goyos be reinstated and receive $74,400 in back pay.
“It’s been frustrating, but there is no other option,” said current Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes. “I have no other choice but to have a conversation with the person that’s being brought back and tell them that I expect nothing but excellent work from now on.”
In 2015, the city settled a federal civil rights suit with McNeil’s family, agreeing to pay them nearly $1 million.