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Fla. city to pay $500K after cops killed driver in 120-shot shooting

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Lester Machado was driving his Honda Civic through Hialeah, Fla., early one morning when police tried to pull him over for what they said was a traffic stop.

The 24-year-old sped away. During a chase through the dense downtown streets, officers opened fire at least once, saying Machado had swiped an officer’s car, according to court records. Police eventually forced him off the road, then fired into his disabled vehicle 120 more times, killing him.

This week, five years after the October 2017 shooting, Hialeah agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his mother, according to a copy of the agreement provided by the city.

The settlement does not contain any admission of liability for Machado’s death by the city or the officers named as defendants, all of whom were cleared of criminal wrongdoing shortly after the incident.

Representatives from the city did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. An attorney for the family declined to discuss the case.

Nationwide, police have fatally shot at least 1,250 people who were fleeing in vehicles since 2015, according to a Washington Post database of officer-involved shootings tracked since that year. In 2017, the year Machado was killed, officers shot 179 people in cars, the most of any year since The Post began tracking the deaths.

Most incidents in which police opened fire into a vehicle involved suspects who were armed. Machado was not. Officers said they tried to pull him over because he had a broken license plate light, though his family’s attorneys said in court papers that the light was functioning.

Immediately following the shooting, police said Machado, who was a manager at a local AutoZone, had reversed his car toward the officers who tried to stop him.

“They jump back into their vehicles for their own safety, and then he takes advantage and speeds away,” Hialeah Police Sgt. Carl Zogby said.

They pursued him for about 10 minutes, stopping when Machado crashed his car into a Metrorail pillar. Six officers opened fire almost immediately, striking the car more than 100 times and hitting a fence at a nearby church. Machado was struck at least seven times, including in the head and stomach, according to court filings.

Under Hialeah police department policy, officers are not supposed to pursue people for minor traffic violations, as the Miami Herald reported. But police said that Machado had used the vehicle as a deadly weapon and that the chase was justified.

The lawsuit by Machado’s family, filed in federal court, said that his car was stopped when police opened fire and that he was not a threat to the officers or anyone else. It noted that Machado was found dead on the rear passenger-side seat.

“It is apparent that after the crash, and the hail of gun fire leveled at him, Machado was seeking shelter and protection from the gunfire, and was not resisting, attempting to flee or retaliate in any way against the overwhelming fire power leveled against him,” said attorneys who filed the complaint on behalf of Machado’s mother, Yolaisy Perez.

The lawsuit also alleged that the shooting was part of a pattern of excessive force and “street justice” by the police department.

In 2021, Perez’s attorneys claimed in court papers that they had found evidence of an “extensive cover-up” to protect the officers. It said that a police sergeant had ordered the officers not to chase Machado, and that he could not have used the vehicle as a deadly weapon because it was “visibly disabled with its rear axle partially detached and all of its airbags deployed.”

A judge denied the request to amend the complaint with the findings, saying Perez’s team had missed a required deadline and had waited too long to seek some pieces of evidence.

Prosecutors found the shooting justified under Florida law, which allows police to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” that a suspect has committed a felony that could result in serious harm to another person.

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