Just a year ago, Janet Reno, the first woman state's attorney in Florida history, was being hailed as a liberal prosecutor whose political future might soon include the governorship.
Today, as this racially tripartite community cleans up from a riot that some lay at the doorstep of prosecutor Reno, black leaders are demanding her removal from office.
Reno, a 41-year-old Harvard law graduate, is puzzled and angered by the growing accusations that her powerful office has mishandled more than a dozen criminal actions involving blacks, both as defendants and as victims.
Her critics, who include U.S. Attorney General Banjamin Civiletti, Gov. Bob Graham and Mayor Maurice Ferre, suggest that her staff bungled the prosecution of four white ex-police officers charged with last December's beating death of black insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie.
Their acquittal last Saturday by an all-white jury in Tampa touched off the rioting here that resulted in 14 killings, a policeman's death by heartt attack and financial losses estimated by Dade County officials at $200 million, including property damage, inventory losses, and lost wages and tourist dollars. That would make it the most costly civil disturbance in U.S. history.
The curfew on 25 square miles of northwest Miami was lifted Wednesday night. Dade County schools reopened today without incident, although absenteeism was expected to remain high until after the Memorial Day weekend.
Also today, the federal government declared Miami a disaster area, making it eligible for special recovery assistance, and Gov. Graham said he opposed amnesty for the 1,267 people arrested.
Reverberations from the violence continued today with the suspension of five Miami policemen, four of them for allegedly shashing tires and spray painting cars thought to have been left behind by looters at a discount store in the riot area.
Homicide detectives, meanwhile, said they suspect that two of the most brutal attacks in the initial rioting Saturday night were committed by the same individuals.
In one of the incidents, two brothers and a women companion, all white, were set upon after a brick crashed through their car window and sent the car swerving into a 75-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl both black.
The brothers, still in comas, are in critical condition. One of them, Jeffrey Kulp, 22, had his ears and tongue slashed and, police say, "was run over maybe four or five times" by a car. The little girl lost her left leg and hip and also is in critical condition.
Two hours later, about 60 feet away on the same street, the first persons were killed in what is now being called the McDuffie riot. A 21-year-old man and two 15-year-old boys, all white, were dragged from their car and viciously beaten to death. One of the boys was found with tire marks on his chest.
To suggestions that she helped cause th riot by being racist in the conduct of her office, Janet Reno, who is a member of the NAACP, calmly answers, "There is no basis for it."
One sympathetic black observed that "Janet views her job as that of a technician. She follows the law and fails to grasp the enormous political implications of her actions."
Reno pleads guilty to that analysis, insisting that "all a prosecutor should do is operate on the evidence and the law. This is no place for politics."
Reno noted that "the outrageous tragedy" of acquitting the four whites came just three months after another all-white jury had convicted Johnny Jones, the black, charismatic former Dade County school superintendent, of grand theft.
"It was not an outrage that Dr. Jones was found guilty," Reno said, "but the two verdicts coming so close together was just more than this or any community could take."
Fingering a stack of letters and notes piling up on the desk in her seventh-floor office at the Dade County Courthouse, Reno said the letters and calls "have been overwhelming in support, and not just from rednecks but from a cross-section of community leaders, including blacks."
Reno said she told the governor, who has named a commission to look into the complaints, to "review all our files. Investigate. But that won't address the underlying problems of this community, which are jobs, refugees. . . ."
One of the cases scheduled to be reviewed by federal prosecutors in the coming weeks involved the molestation of an 11-year-old black girl last year by a white Florida highway patrolman. He was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct, for which he could have received 15 years, after allegedly forcing her to partially disrobe in his patrol car after picking her up as a suspected shoplifter. But the patrolman was allowed to plead no contest and put on probation.
The presiding judge openly accused Reno's office of "hypocritical conduct" for later denying that prosecutors had played any part in proposing probation. The child became withdrawn after the incident. She refused to wash below the waist and began locking herself in the bathroom, and is still undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Even more controversial was the killing of a 21-year-old black man, Randy Heath, last September by a white Hialeah police officer who was moonlighting off-duty as a warehouse guard. Hialeah police maintained that Heath had been trying to burglarize the warehouse. The victim's sister, Theresa, said her brother had only been trying to urinate by the building's wall.
After an inquest last November, a circuit judge found probable cause to believe that the officer, Larry Shockley, had committed manslaughter. But Reno's office did not take the case to a grand jury until four months later, after news reports and a civil lawsuit brought to light inconsistencies between the off-duty officer's report and other evidence.
Although one of Reno's assistants also had recommended that manslaughter charges be filed, Reno said the grand jury had found the officer "negligent but not culpable to justify a manslaughter." She said the officers was "hearbroken" about the incident.
Also joining in criticism of Reno was Edward Carhart, who defended one of the ex-policemen in the McDuffie trial. Reno displayed "a total lack of judgment" by charging all of the officers, Carhart said. Reno should have gone after only Officer Alex Marrero, who allegedly struck the deadly blows to McDuffie's head as he lay on the pavement after being pulled off his motorcycle, the defense lawyer said. He indicated that prosecutors could have worried about the others later.
Reno responds that, based on the evidence. "We had to charge all of them."
Reno said two mistakes were made but they were both out of her hands: the transfer of the trial to Tampa and the seating of an all-white jury.
Reno and Carhart were Mutt and Jeff colleagues in the state's attorney's office for several years.Carhart, a small man who limps from boyhood polio, was chief assistant to Reno's predecessor, Richard E. Gerstein, and Reno, an athletic sic-footer, was Gerstein's administrative assistant.
When Gerstein resigned for health reasons early in 1978, he recommended Carhart and Reno equally to then-governor Reubin Askew. Although nearly everyone in the legal community, including Reno, thought Carhart was the more logical choice, the governor seized the chance to name the first woman prosecutor in Florida.
Askew's choice was confirmed by Dade County voters in November 1978, when Reno was elected with 74 percent of the vote.
Reno lives with her widowed mother, Jane, and a carpenter craftsman brother, Mark, in the woods southwest of Miami. Her late father, Henry, was a police reporter for the Miami Herald for 43 years. Another brother, Bob, is an economics writer for Newsday in Long Island, N.Y. Her sister, Maggy, is a commissioner of Martin County, north of Miami.
Her mother also was a journalist, retiring from The Miami News seven years ago.
These days, as prosecutor Reno sips beer with her mother at the house her parents build with their own hands she is tempted to agree with her mother's view, offered after her two daughters were elected to public office, that "I wish they'd both been disco dancers, I do, I do."
"But I can't dance," said daughter Janet Reno.