4 Florida officers indicted for 2019 shootout with robbers that killed a UPS driver and passerby

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Four Florida police officers have been indicted for manslaughter in connection with a 2019 shootout on a busy rush-hour street that left a hijacked UPS driver and a passerby in a nearby car dead.

A grand jury indicted Miami-Dade County officer Rodolfo Mirabal, 39, with two counts of manslaughter with a firearm for the Dec. 5, 2019, deaths of 27-year-old UPS driver Frank Ordonez and Richard Cutshaw, a 70-year-old union negotiator who was driving nearby, Broward County prosecutors announced Saturday night.

Officers Jose Mateo, 32, Richard Santiesteban, 33, and Leslie Lee, 57, were indicted for manslaughter with a firearm in connection with Ordonez's death. They are not charged with Cutshaw's death.

None of the officers are charged with the deaths of the hijackers, 41-year-old cousins Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill.

Mateo and Mirabal are still employed by Miami-Dade police. Lee retired three years ago and Santiesteban was fired, the Miami Herald reported.

Under Florida law, manslaughter is an unlawful killing committed while demonstrating “culpable negligence” — that is defined as an act that shows a “a wanton or reckless disregard for human life.”

The officers face a maximum sentence of 30 years if convicted, but as first-time offenders that would be unlikely.

The four surrendered on Friday and Saturday to the Broward Sheriff's Office and were released without bail.

The indictments were issued more than a week ago, but kept secret pending the officers' surrender. News of the indictments leaked Monday night.

The indictments come after a four-year investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The shootout happened during rush hour on a major street in suburban Fort Lauderdale after a long pursuit by several police agencies. About 20 law enforcement officers were present, though it is unknown how many opened fire on the hijackers, who had been shooting at officers throughout the pursuit.

Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said in a statement that the lengthy state investigation and the months-long grand jury proceedings were needed “to ensure we get answers for the victims’ families and the community.”

“Deciding whether to use deadly force is among the most serious and consequential decisions a police officer can make,” Pryor said. “We understand that these decisions are often made during intense and uncertain circumstances.”

Pryor and his prosecutors did not say in their statement or in available court documents how the actions of the indicted officers differed from the others. They declined further comment Sunday.

No lawyers for the officers are listed in court records.

The South Florida Police Benevolent Association, the officers' union, did not immediately respond to a phone call and email early Sunday seeking comment. The union previously issued a statement blasting the indictments.

“We’re extremely disappointed that after almost five years, these officers are finding themselves indicted for something they had seconds to decide. It sends a chilling effect to officers in Broward County,” union president Steadman Stahl said in a statement last week.

Miami-Dade police also did not not immediately respond to a phone message early Sunday. The department earlier issued a statement saying “it respects the legal process."

The tragedy began when Alexander and Hill robbed the Regent Jewelers store in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables. When officers arrived, shots were being fired inside the store. A store worker was hit in the head by a ricochet, but survived.

The robbers fled and hijacked Ordonez, who was delivering packages nearby.

They led officers on a long chase into southern Broward County, running red lights and narrowly avoiding crashes. The chase attracted television news helicopters, which began broadcasting it live nationally.

The hijackers fired from inside the van, which finally stopped in a middle lane at a busy intersection, caught behind a wall of vehicles at a red light.

Witnesses said gunfire suddenly erupted as officers ran between cars toward the van. Ordonez, Alexander and Hill were killed inside the van. Cutshaw was found dead in his car. Investigators have not said if Ordonez and Cutshaw were shot by police, the robbers or both.

Policing experts said in 2019 that the officers were in a tough spot. It appeared the robbers were firing from the van, endangering the officers, Ordonez, nearby drivers and their passengers. The officers needed to contain the robbers in the van so they couldn’t run to another vehicle and take new hostages, the experts said.

It is highly unusual for Florida law enforcement officers to be charged for an on-duty killing, having only happened three times in the past 40 years. Even then, only one of those officers has been convicted.

Three police officers in the Panhandle town of Crestview are awaiting trial on manslaughter charges for the 2021 death of Calvin Wilks Jr., who died after they allegedly jolted him with a stun gun. Those officers, who have pleaded not guilty, are awaiting trial.

Former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja is serving a 25-year prison sentence after being convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder for the 2015 shooting of Corey Jones, whose SUV had broken down on an interstate highway off-ramp.

Raja, working undercover and in plain clothes, never identified himself as a police officer when he approached Jones and began yelling at him, an audio recording showed. Jones, fearing he was being robbed, pulled his licensed handgun and tried to flee. Raja pursued and killed him, trial testimony showed.

A Broward sheriff’s deputy was charged with manslaughter for the 2014 fatal shooting of a man who was carrying an air rifle he had just purchased. Deputies yelled at Jermaine McBean, who spun around and was shot by Deputy Peter Peraza. A judge later threw out the manslaughter charge.