Why A Group Of Miami-Dade Parents Is Rallying Behind A 'Witness Protection' Bill

Jan 14, 2016

“My son name is Herbert Henderson. He was murdered on Nov. 7, 2012,” says Mary Henderson.

“My son was killed Sept. 10, 2015,"  says Neikole Hunt, her pain, still fresh, makes her voice crack. "His name is Randall Robinson.”

These moms belong to a group that calls itself Miami-Dade Parents of Murdered Kids.

They meet every month in the new North District county police station and they all share the same tragic story: They lost their children to gun violence.

The parents are focused on making changes to a system they say is broken.

“We need justice,” says Henderson.

Miami-Dade Parents of Murdered Kids wants to do for gun violence what Mothers Against Drunk Driving has done around alcohol abuse, and they say that starts with helping to shape policies on a local, state and national level.

On this night, they’re making plans for which bills to support, as the legislative session gets underway this week in Tallahassee.

Tangela Sears is leading the meeting. She’s been an anti-gun violence activist in Miami-Dade County for over a decade. Last year, her own son was murdered in Tallahassee.

  "Most of us won’t receive justice because of witnesses,” she says. “Witnesses not talking on our cases, so the question is, ‘How do we deal with that situation in order to be able to get convictions in our cases?’ ”

There are 15 families in the room. Most of their murder cases remain unsolved and they say part of the reason is because witnesses won’t cooperate with the police.

“We have to understand, they’re afraid,” said Sears. “They’re afraid of being killed. They’re afraid of losing a mother or a family member in the house.”

These parents think they might have an answer to their dilemma of witnesses who won’t say what they saw, or recant their testimony before trial.  It’s in House Bill 475 sponsored by State Rep. Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat.

Bill 475 would make sure the names of witnesses in felony  cases are not available to the public or media until after the case is closed.

“Last year, in my hometown of Tampa we had a teenager that was killed at a party. There had to be 40 to 50 kids that were there that witnessed it and none felt comfortable cooperating with the police for fear of retaliation,” Narain said in interview with WLRN.

In Miami-Dade, there are similar accounts of witnesses not cooperating after heinous crimes. It’s an issue that vexes police officers.

In 2014, a mass shooting in Liberty City left seven people injured and two dead. The police commander of the neighborhood at the time said there were at least a dozen witnesses. None would talk.

“I don’t understand how you can know who can get out and shoot that large amount of people and not be upset to say, ‘I’m going to put that person in jail,’ ” said Miami police Commander Dana Carr.

Narain says he has gotten some pushback from open-government proponents who say witnesses’ information should not be shielded.

At the meeting inside the Miami-Dade police station, the Parents of Murdered Kids are trying to get the community to back this bill. The say it could help solve murders.

“What can we do as a whole as a unit to support this Bill 475 and get the information out there?” asks Myrna Bird, whose son was killed outside of a Miami strip club.

Sears, the anti-gun violence activist, tells her everyone in the room has to spread the word to call lawmakers in Tallahassee and express their support.

“Go to your phone,” Sears says. “Text everybody in your phone. Call your family. Call your friends. Tell your colleagues. That’s how you get the word out.”

Neikole Hunt’s 17-year old son was killed in September. She wonders out loud if the parents will get the support they need.

“You’re out there being an advocate for your child and your community [but] when it’s time to get out here and show up and show out, where they at?” Hunt asks. “We make things in numbers. If you going alone, it ain’t happening.”

So far, the group has gotten support from Miami-Dade County. County commissioners recently passed a symbolic resolution in support of House bill 475.

In a few days, Miami-Dade Parents of Murdered Kids will head to Tallahassee in a caravan hoping to make their case in-person to lawmakers.