A Hispanic policeman whose shooting of a black youth touched off two days of racial disturbances in Miami's Overtown area in December was indicted today on a manslaughter charge.
Officer Luis Alvarez, who remained free on his own recognizance, became the second Hispanic policeman indicted in as many months for killing a black suspect in Miami or surrounding Dade County.
Patrolman Chuck McEwan, head of the Miami Police Department Hispanic-American Confederation, and Sgt. Walter Rodak, head of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, complained that Alvarez was being made a "victim" and that the charges represented "an indictment of all police officers."
"I think a lot of it has to do with politics in this area," Rodak said.
Their statements, at a news conference in the police department lobby, spotlighted tension here between Miami's increasing Hispanic population and black leaders who complain that emphasis on Hispanic problems has resulted in neglect of the area's 17-percent-black population and bad relations between Hispanic officers and black youths.
The Dade County Hispanic Officers Association charged last month that two Dade policemen were indicted for manslaughter in December and January because of "incredible political pressure" by the black community.
The Rev. Ray Fauntroy, the local head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, hailed today's Dade County grand jury indictment and expressed hope that authorities will follow through with a quick trial.
Fauntroy led a group of black protesters on a six-mile march through downtown Miami to the bayside City Hall on Jan. 29, confronting Mayor Maurice Ferre with shouted demands that Alvarez be prosecuted and that Police Chief Kenneth Harms be fired.
City Manager Howard Gray, who is black, refused to fire Harms, who is white. But Gray pledged to the demonstrators that there would be no cover-up in the Alvarez investigation, which he said he had personally supervised.
Alvarez, 32, a patrolman with 18 months on the force, fatally shot Nevell Johnson Jr., 20, in an Overtown video arcade on Dec. 28. Within hours, violence erupted. By the time calm returned two days later, a second young black had been shot eight times and killed by police who said they caught him looting.
Alvarez was suspended from duty but not dismissed, pending the outcome of his trial. On his attorney's advice, he refused to testify in the police investigation that provided evidence for the grand jury. Police spokesmen said, however, that Johnson was carrying a revolver at the time of his death and that Alvarez apparently accidentally fired his service pistol after a sudden motion by Johnson.
Harms acknowledged that Alvarez and his rookie partner, Luis Cruz, were violating police procedures by entering the Overtown video establishment. Both were assigned to duty elsewhere, but Alvarez had taken Cruz to the arcade to show him how to work in a black neighborhood, police said.
The Miami Police Department said it would have no comment on today's indictment.