Sporadic gunfire resumed on the second night of a curfew imposed on a crowded public housing project that has been the scene of intermittent violence since Tuesday.
A power failure, which cut off the few air conditioning units in the over-crowded development, further complicated problems for police tonight as residents spilled into their yards to escape steamy apartments. The power was restored about three hours later.
Shortly before midnight police reported they had made 17 arrests in the sealed-off area, one for carrying a concealed firearm and the others for curfew violations.
"The situation is escalating," said an officer at the command center as a special respone team (SWAT) was sent into the area to check out the gunfire. s
The incidents in the violence-torn area called Liberty City came after a day in which dozens of police swept through the community and several longstanding warrants on several residents.
Police said they were taking advantage of the extra manpower assigned to the 170-square-block area and the "green light" that community leaders have given them to restore order to the beleaguered neighborhood, which is under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Earlier today, 25 people arrested Thursday night for violating the curfew were released from jail, angering the Dade County prosecutor, who wanted maximum penalties.
Assistant State Attorney Arthur W. Carter Jr. kicked a chair at the prosecutor's table and muttered "damn" when he learned that the curfew violators, all but one of whom was under 25, were permitted to plead guilty and go home, getting credit for their overnight stay in the county jail.
Although the curfew helped restore calm to the James E. Scott public housing project for the first time since Monday, Carter remained outraged at the lawlessness that wracked the north side area Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I grew up in one of those projects and the health center they burned down -- I set up the first pharmacy in there," said Carter, who is both a lawyer and a pharmacist.
Carter ordered his assistants to not accept "plea negoitations" from those arrested during the night but the word did not get out quick enough for the 8 a.m. hearing before Circuit Judge Gerald J. Klein.
Teresa Pooler, the intern who represented the prosecutor's office in court, hung her head and admitted, "I didn't object."
"It was an act of animals," said Carter, who wanted to push for maximum punishment -- one year in prison and $1,000 fine -- unless the curfew violators had extenuating circumstances.
Carter praised the decision Thursday of County Manager Merrett Steirheim to impose a curfew in Liberty City and to permit police to arrest violators.
Carter said, "I would have done it two nights earlier, after the initial incident." Then, a white police officer was shot in the back from within a crowd. He was part of a plain clothes anti-robbery unit on its first assignment. But efforts to halt a street robbery of a passing motorist were cut off by a hostile crowd.
"It shouldn't be necessary to take control of the streets, police should have kept control," Carter said.
Since Sgt. Fred Pelny was shot in the back Tuesday afternoon, 40 more persons have been hurt -- including four other police officers -- and 59 people have been arrested. A 15-year old who was shot in the back by an unknown assailant is the only person still hospitalized.
The housing project is in the heart of the wider ghetto that erupted in violence two months ago following the acquittal of four white ex-police officers charged with the beating death of a black insurance salesman. Then 18 persons died, and the area suffered more than $100 million in damages.
Today, crews began repairing the burnt-out death center and residents swept up debris.
At a meeting with black community leaders, public and private employers pledged several hundred summer and permanent jobs to residents of the project, where unemployment is estimated to be 60 percent among the 20-year-olds and younger who make up half of the 3,114 residents.
The decision by County Manager Stierheim and Assistant Safety Director Robert Dempsey to order police to fire only in self-defense created a zone in which robberies and vandalism were tolerated. Bands of armed young men intimidated and shot at outsiders, including police, for two nights. This "allowed 50 or so hoodlums to control the destiny of 3,000 people" who live in the project's 762 apartments, Carter said.
Dempsey defended delaying the imposition of a curfew, saying that police waited until members of the project's tenants' council "invited us to come in and restore order."
Dempsey, who came to the Metro [county] police force seven years ago after retiring from the New York City Police Department, where he earned a law degree and worked his way up through the ranks to become director of the legal division, was "very satisfied" with the results of the curfew.
As far as the judge' decision to turn loose those arrested, Dempsey said, "We're not looking to suspend the Constitution in Miami. The arrests will have a salutary effect. Others on the street know that the violators were locked up, and the courts know who was brought in."