MIAMI — A state appeals court Tuesday threw out the manslaughter conviction of a Miami police officer whose shooting of a black motorcyclist touched off three days of rioting in January, 1989. In ordering a new trial for officer William Lozano, the three-judge panel said the highly charged trial had been "fundamentally unfair."
The decision prompted expressions of relief and jubilation from Lozano and sent Miami police into an "Alpha-Bravo alert." By late afternoon squads of officers in full riot gear were standing by outside the police station, just blocks from the Overtown neighborhood where both the shooting and the rioting occurred.
"I don't anticipate any problems occurring tonight," said Miami Police Chief Calvin Ross. But clearly, police were preparing for the worst.
Lozano was accused of deliberately firing his service revolver at an oncoming motorcyclist, Clement Lloyd, 23, striking him in the head and causing the death of a passenger in the subsequent crash. Lozano, 32, said that he had fired in self-defense.
After a seven-week trial, a jury in December, 1989, found Lozano guilty on two counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to seven years in prison but has remained free on $10,000 bond.
The motorcyclist and his passenger were both black and the shooting incident and subsequent trial of the Colombia-born Lozano heightened tensions between Miami's Latino and black communities.
In recent years, incidents involving Miami police killing black men have touched off two other riots--one in 1980 and the other in 1982. In the riot that followed the Lozano shooting, one man was killed, 11 were injured, 372 arrested, 13 buildings were burned and many others damaged.
In its ruling Tuesday, the 3rd District Court of Appeals held that Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina erred when he refused to grant a defense motion to move the trial.
"We simply cannot approve the result of a trial conducted, as was this one, in an atmosphere in which the entire community--including the jury--was so obviously and . . . so justifiably concerned with the dangers which would follow an acquittal," the court said.
"I'm very happy," said Lozano. "No police officer in my position could have received a fair trial due to the threats of violence in parts of this community. I look forward to a new trial."
His attorney, Roy C. Black--who coincidentally Monday was named to head up the team defending William Kennedy Smith on rape charges in Palm Beach--said the decision affirmed his contention that the trial had been held in "an atmosphere of violence."
Ellis Rubin, an attorney representing the families of the two dead men, said relatives had expressed their hope that "the public should not take the law into their own hands" in reaction to the reversal.
Dade State Atty. Janet Reno said she would first appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court and, if that failed, retry Lozano.