Family Says Cop Killed Sleeping Man
WEST PALM BEACH (CN) - A Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy killed a man who was sleeping in a drunken stupor, the dead man's family claims. The family says Samuel Peixoto shot Marino Ramos in the face and then stabbed himself to give the appearance that he had been attacked. Peixoto committed suicide as he was about to be indicted on manslaughter charges, according to a police internal investigation.
According to the police report, on March 15, 2008, Peixoto pulled over a weaving van in which Marino Ramos was a passenger. The driver, Asuncion Cabrera, later said in a statement that he had picked up Ramos at a gas station and that Ramos was drunk and incoherent.
Peixoto cuffed Cabrera when he failed a DUI test. According to Cabrera's statement, Ramos was still asleep in the car.
"At times [Ramos] would open his eyes and say something, [and] then close his eyes and fall back asleep," according to an investigator's summary of Cabrera's account.
Peixoto put Cabrera in his patrol car and approached Ramos. Gunshots rang out, and Peixoto emerged with a bloody rag on his arm, Cabrera told police.
Ramos lay dead on the ground, his face and chest torn apart by seven 9 mm bullets from Peixoto's standard-issue Glock.
When backup arrived, Peixoto claimed Ramos had stabbed him with a butterfly knife, prompting him to open fire.
But a medical examiner determined that the wounds were probably self-inflicted. Four of the five punctures on Peixoto's arm were superficial, forming a "circular pattern," which led the examiner to conclude that they were "typical of a self-inflicted injury," according to the investigation.
Even putting aside the unusual timidity with which the wounds were inflicted, investigators doubted Peixoto's story. They questioned why Peixoto felt threatened if Ramos was in the car with the door closed.
According to Sgt. Jose Garcia, who led the internal investigation, Peixoto repeatedly claimed that he could not recall exactly what happened.
Peixoto's stuttering responses during internal affairs interrogations aroused further suspicions.
"Yeah, I was trying to, like, get the knife or ... he stabbed me here, I think," Peixoto said in a recorded statement.
"I felt, like, four stick hits here, and then he stabbed me here and then, like, brought it back and forth a little bit, and then I fired with my right hand into him. And that's all I remember," Peixoto told detectives.
Cabrera told investigators his view was obstructed as he sat in Peixoto's patrol car and that he didn't see the shooting.
According to the investigation, the sheriff's lab pulled a single fingerprint from the butterfly knife found in Cabrera's van. The sole print matched Peixoto's right index finger, investigators say.
The state attorney planned to present manslaughter charges against Peixoto in May 2008, but Peixoto shot himself before the grand jury convened. West Palm Beach Police found him dead on the floor of his living room. His apartment was in flames.
While the investigation suggests that no one but Ramos and Peixoto knew what really happened during the traffic stop, the family says Ramos was sound asleep when he was shot.
"Samuel Peixoto shot the sleeping Mr. Ramos seven times while he was seated in the front seat, with the door closed," Ramos' family states in their wrongful death complaint in Palm Beach County Court.
The family claims the sheriff's office missed obvious signs that Peixoto was unstable and prone to violence. They cite a prior incident in which Peixoto was called to investigate a burglary at a plant nursery. Peixoto shot his gun into a wooded area near the crime scene, according to a police record. When asked why he fired, Peixoto allegedly said he saw a muzzle flash in the tree line.
The phantom shooter was never identified, the record states, and the sheriff's office pursued no disciplinary action in what it saw as a victimless episode.
Ramos' family says the incident revealed Peixoto's psychological instability. The family's attorneys at Lytal Reiter portray Peixoto as a violent, itchy-fingered cop unable to discern a real threat from an imagined one.
Citing a family history of schizophrenia and violence, they call attention to Peixoto's deceased brother, Helder, an ex-transit cop from Massachusetts who allegedly murdered his girlfriend with a hammer in May 2007.
Helder, too, committed suicide. As his girlfriend lay bludgeoned in his apartment, he jumped off the eleventh floor of a condominium in West Palm Beach, a police report states.