Two young men and a woman, suspected of an armed robbery outside a Hialeah hotel, led police officers on a dramatic car chase that wound up in Broward County. Their silver Mercedes-Benz was eventually stopped in Hollywood, the three were taken into custody and the case might have remained largely anonymous, except for one thing.
The backseat passenger, an 18-year-old named Gabriel Rodriguez, was discovered with a gunshot wound to the neck — presumably from a police bullet. “I got shot bro!” Rodriguez yells in dramatic police body-cam footage obtained by the Herald, saying later: “It feels like I”m about to die!”
Rodriguez survived. The previously unreported episode has now sparked an investigation by Miami-Dade police homicide detectives and prosecutors. Officers from Hialeah and Miami-Dade were involved at some stages in the chase, as was a Broward Sheriff’s police helicopter. But none of the cops reported using their weapons.
Instead, the Herald has learned, they are focusing on a Doral police detective who is suspected of joining in the chase, firing his gun at some point during the pursuit, repeatedly punching the driver when the Mercedes-Benz was finally stopped in Hollywood, and then leaving the scene after the three were arrested. The Doral Police Department confirmed that Detective Michael Acosta, 30, has been relieved of duty, pending the outcome of the investigation, but declined further comment.
A Miami-Dade ballistics analysis report obtained by the Herald shows that two bullets believed used in the shooting matched Acosta’s 9 mm Glock pistol. The police lab also tested weapons from six Miami-Dade police officers, and none matched, the report said.
The body-cam footage also shows someone who is believed to be Acosta, in a dark-blue button-up shirt under a bulletproof vest, repeatedly striking the driver of the car, a 20-year-old woman, through the window in the frantic moments when the car was finally stopped at the intersection in Hollywood.
A defense lawyer for Rodriguez says the teen is still suffering from neck pain. “He felt the burning and then he realized he’d been shot,” said lawyer Justin Beckham. “He definitely thought he was going to die.”
Beckham said Miami-Dade public corruption prosecutors have reached out to try and interview Rodriguez, who remains jailed awaiting trial on the robbery case. Beckham said Rodriguez, who suffers from mental illness and had no previous criminal history, has not been told who is believed to have shot him. “The whole thing is shrouded in mystery,” Beckham said.
The story of what is known so far in the shooting is drawn from accounts from multiple sources with knowledge of the probe, as well as evidence in the criminal case against Rodriguez. That includes body-camera footage, radio dispatches and police reports.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation told the Herald that Acosta is also being investigated for a separate road rage incident in the Hialeah area that happened one week before the car chase and shooting. Details of that case have yet to be made public.
Acosta, a U.S. military veteran, has been a Doral police officer since 2017. The South Florida Police Benevolent Association, which is representing Acosta, declined to discuss details of the allegations but did acknowledge he was involved in the car chase.
“We’re not sure what he’s been relieved of duty for,” said PBA President Steadman Stahl. “He was involved in an incident involving multiple agencies. The investigation is still open and until we can see all the facts, it’s hard to take a position on what the officer may or may not have done.”
The Miami-Dade police homicide bureau is investigating. “Based on the fact that it is an open and active case, we are unable to divulge any further information at this time,” according to Miami-Dade police spokesman Angel Rodriguez.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, which is also involved in the probe, also declined to comment.
Acosta has not been charged with anything. Search warrants in the case show that Acosta is being investigated for possible charges of attempted murder and tampering with evidence.
Even as police shootings have come under increasing national scrutiny in recent years, Florida law still gives cops wide leeway to use deadly force. Prosecutions of police officers for on-duty shootings are rare anywhere in the state.
In particular, Florida’s fleeing felon law allows officers to shoot at a suspected criminal running away — even in the back — under the belief that they could pose a threat to the public.
And even if Acosta is found to have broken Doral internal procedures, that likely wouldn’t be allowed into a criminal trial, thanks to case law stemming from the trial of a Miami officer who fatally shot at a man fleeing police on a motorcycle in 1989.
Anatomy of a Chase
In Rodriguez’s case, police said, the episode started with a drug deal gone wrong.
Police allege that Rodriguez used Snapchat to arrange to sell drugs to a man outside the Holiday Inn Express Hotel on the 6600 block of West 20th Avenue, on the night of April 19. The victim, Allan Martinez, 21, waited inside his car in the parking lot.
That’s when a silver Mercedes-Benz pulled up. Behind the wheel was Titilopemi Naomi Olusola, 22, according to court documents. In the front passenger’s seat was her cousin, Emmanuel Akinbehinje, 20, and in the rear passenger’s seat was Rodriguez.
According to an arrest warrant, Akinbehinje walked up to Martinez’s door, holding two guns, and said: “Give me the money.” He then pistol whipped Martinez, causing him to black out, while the other two ransacked his car, the warrant said.
A hotel patrol saw the commotion and alerted front desk staffers, who called 911. Hialeah police officers arrived just in time to see the Mercedes-Benz driving off. As dispatchers issued countywide alerts for the car, Hialeah police officers followed as the Mercedes-Benz drove off.
A Doral police spokesman, Rey Valdez, said the car chase only briefly went through the city, and dispatchers ordered all officers to cease chasing once it left their jurisdiction. He could not say if Acosta was on duty that day, or when and where he joined the chase.
“Acosta did not report his joining of the pursuit to police dispatch. During the pursuit, Acosta discharged a firearm and struck the fleeing Mercedes-Benz occupied by the armed robbery suspects,” according to a search warrant in the case.
The Mercedes hopped on the Palmetto Expressway, and when it became clear that the Mercedes was headed to Broward County, Hialeah police called off the chase. One source said the officers all exited at Northwest 67th Avenue, after the curve known as the “Big Bend.”
“The Hialeah Police Department can confirm that none of their officers opened fire during this chase,” Hialeah police spokeswoman Adriana Quintana Martinez said in an email.
Infrared footage from a Broward Sheriff’s helicopter shows the chase eventually wound through Broward County into the Hollywood area — at one point, the officers had the car nearly boxed in but it slipped away. Moments later, it appears, a police car slightly collided with the Mercedes-Benz’s left rear on Pembroke Road.
Exactly where the shooting happened remains unclear. Rodriguez, in a statement to Hialeah police detectives at the hospital, seemed confused about where it happened, but insisted that a police officer in a dark-colored car tried to ram them from the left and to the rear.
“The first shot was fired before he tried to T-bone us,” Rodriguez said in the audio recorded statement, which is part of the evidence file in the robbery case.
The chase ended when the Mercedes-Benz, turning right onto State Road 7, collided with a Miami-Dade police car about 10:20 p.m., hitting a pole next to a gas station. As the car tried backing up, Acosta jumped out of his dark-colored Impala and began furiously striking the driver, Olusola, footage shows.
Olusola suffered a bloody lip and was later examined in the hospital.
Rodriguez, shirtless and bleeding from the neck, fell out of the car yelling that he’d been shot.
“Bro, is the neck wound bad?” Rodriguez cried as he was being checked out by a detective.
“Naw, you’re good. You’re going to be good,” the detective said as he waited with Rodriguez for paramedics to arrive.
Some of the Miami-Dade and Broward Sheriff’s officers on the scene seemed confused about the gunshot wound.
“Ya’ll tried to kill us ... You shot my friend, bro!” Akinbehinje yelled as he was taken into custody.
“Who did?” another Miami-Dade detective asked. ”I didn’t shoot nobody.”
“That dude was trying to kill us,” Akinbehinje said of whoever shot at the Mercedes-Benz, adding later: “He rammed our car three f---ing times ... He got shot in his neck and ear by the police. Good luck dealing with that case!”
“Who shot you? I don’t know who shot you,” the detective said.
The footage shows Acosta milled about the scene, going into the trunk of his dark gray unmarked sedan, even casually bumping fists with one officer who was busy giving directions to others to organize the scene. “Let me get you my business card,” he said to one officer.
It was unclear at what point he left the scene. But in crime scene photos taken that night, his Impala is gone.
Rodriguez was taken to Hollywood’s Memorial Regional Hospital for his injuries.
Akinbehinje and Olusola were taken to a nearby Broward Sheriff’s Office police station for questioning. They did not realize, according to arrest warrants, that the interview room was equipped with video and audio recording equipment.
They implicated themselves in the robbery, according to court documents, and also talked about the shooting and the chase. The gun believed used in the armed robbery was also found in the Mercedes Benz.
As for the criminal case against the alleged robbers, all three are awaiting trial. Akinbehinje is being held in a Broward County jail, for now, because he is facing an unrelated burglary case there. He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer did not return a request for comment.
Olusola was not charged with the robbery. Instead, she was charged with accessory.
Exactly how investigators learned of Acosta’s involvement in the chase remains unclear. No Hialeah or Miami-Dade police officers have been relieved of duty. Stahl, of the police union, said the Miami-Dade officers had their weapons taken for ballistics testing.
Acosta’s gun was also taken. His Chevrolet Impala was seized and searched in late April as part of the police-shooting probe, according to photos included in the criminal case against the accused robbers.
Investigators also used long dowels to chart the path of at least two bullets that went into the Mercedes-Benz. One was charted as going through the driver’s side rear door — the other was charted as having entered the window.
“Shooting at the car, that’s crazy,” Olusola’s defense lawyer, Randy Haas, said of the police shooting.. “Absolutely, it’s an unjustified shooting.”