Hialeah, FL — On the night he was killed, Lester Machado, 24, was targeted by police who falsely claimed he was driving with a broken license plate light. For some reason — which we will never know — Machado did not stop when police attempted to pull him over and police used this as a reason to chase him down and fire more than 120 rounds into his car. Machado was unarmed and his car was disabled when six cops fired a stupefying 122 bullets into his car, executing him in firing squad fashion.
Though Machado's tragic death unfolded in 2017, last week, the city agreed to settle the family's lawsuit for $500,000. Last year, attorneys for the family discovered new evidence in the case which they say was enough to prosecute the officers involved.
Unfortunately, that never happened and the officers who dumped 122 rounds into an unarmed man were never prosecuted.
"This is not something you could have just looked at one report and said, 'aha, this is a cover-up of a bad shooting,'" said Rick Diaz, the family's attorney. "It took a lot of time."
One of the most bombshell details of the case is the fact that attorneys found the reason for the stop was entirely unjustified. Lawyers claim that the officer who initiated the original stop, Teannie Hernandez, lied about the reason for the stop that October night.
When lawyers were given access to Machado's Honda Accord, they hooked the battery back up and the light worked perfectly.
“In fact, despite the heavy collision to the Honda’s rear end, all of the lights on the back of the Machado vehicle, brake lights, tag lights, and backup lights are fully functional to this day,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit also alleged a coverup took place as one key piece of evidence — surveillance footage of the chase and shooting — vanished while in police custody.
What's more, lawyers claim police denied potentially life-saving medical treatment to Machado as he lie bleeding out in his vehicle. The 911 call between a dispatcher with the Hialeah Fire Rescue Department and another with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue showed that authorities couldn't agree on who had jurisdiction over the incident. In the ten minutes it took them to decide, Machado bled to death.
“For more than ten minutes, as Machado was bleeding out and dying, this ridiculous argument ensued,” said the lawsuit.
As the Miami Herald reports, "the federal lawsuit was originally filed against Hialeah and a slew of officers in October 2019, alleging Hialeah police violated Machado’s civil rights and inflicted a wrongful death. The amended complaint was filed this week after the family’s lawyers pored over video and radio dispatch recordings, crime scene evidence and interviewed dozens of police personnel during depositions. One of the key depositions was that of former Hialeah Officer Maria Benitez, who was involved in the chase and later told the lawyers about what she believed were efforts to obfuscate what happened that night."
Benitez would go on to blow the whistle on the department, claiming they engaged in a coverup and told lawyers that officer Hernandez admitted she had no probable cause to stop Machado that night.
“I’ll just say the tag light was out,” Hernandez said, according to Benitez. “I’ll also say he was swerving across lanes.”
Benitez said Hernandez told her she was simply trying to pull Machado over to boost her arrest stats before the upcoming performance evaluation. Benitez also said the department pressured her to say it looked like Machado had a gun but “Benitez simply refused to lie because it was not true,” the lawsuit said.
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According to the lawsuit, the entire reason for the stop, the subsequent chase, and the death by firing squad, were all unjust.
Police claim they used such force because Machado "attempted to ram" a patrol car during the pursuit. However, the lawsuit states the officer falsely claimed Machado attempted to ram him and the radio dispatch proves police were told to cancel the pursuit.
The Hialeah police department has a policy of not pursuing vehicles over minor traffic infractions and they were told to call off the chase. “Do not chase the vehicle,” a dispatcher repeated, according to the logs.
But then another officer got on the radio and falsely reported that the Honda “had actually struck” one of the police cars, the lawsuit said. Lt. Antonio Luis reversed the sergeant’s order and instructed his officers to “proceed.”
“He rammed my unit. He rammed my unit,” Hialeah police officer, Esteban Holland falsely claimed over the radio. But this never happened. Surveillance footage would later show that it was Holland who struck Machado's vehicle on the side.
Police would later go on to claim Machado attempted to ram two other officers using this as justification to begin firing through their own windshield as they drove down the road.
According to the lawsuit, as reported by the Herald, one officer even began firing at the moving car from inside his speeding car.
Despite Machado's vehicle being completely disabled and despite the fact that Machado was unarmed and posed absolutely no threat, a hail of gunfire immediately erupted. More than 100 rounds struck Machado's vehicle.
“During this entire episode, The Honda could not possibly be used as a deadly weapon as when it hit the Metrorail column it was visibly disabled with its rear axle partially detached and all of its airbags deployed,” according to the lawsuit.
Prosecutors would then go on to clear all the officers involved, using a highly flawed "fleeing felon" law that allows cops to kill fleeing suspects if they believe they are a danger to the public. Machado was trapped in a disabled vehicle, he was unarmed, and he was accused of fleeing a stop for a broken license plate light — yet somehow, prosecutors claimed he presented a public threat.
“The officers had a lawful right to try and stop Lester Machado for his traffic offense and arrest him when he willfully fled and escalated his conduct to that which endangered the lives of the officers and citizens on the road,” the State Attorney’s Office wrote in its final report on the case in 2018.
According to the lawsuit, however, Hialeah police were deceptive with their presentation of the evidence to prosecutors and they tricked ”the State Attorney’s Office while engaging in a “massive and extensive cover-up to protect the shooters and witness officers from potential criminal charges, administrative charges, and civil liability.”
Police lied about the reason for the stop, lied about the reason for the chase, lied about the reason for the death by firing squad, lied to prosecutors about the facts of the case, and destroyed video evidence of the actual shooting and crash. Essentially, an innocent man who ran from an unlawful traffic stop was executed by police, who investigated and cleared themselves in his murder.
Citizens of Hialeah beware, corrupt killer cops patrol your city.