Two members of a Sunset, Florida, SWAT team shot and killed a 23-year-old bartender after he fled to his bedroom and picked up a pistol as his door came crashing in and masked, armed men flooded into his home during a 6:00am raid last Friday morning. Armed with a search warrant alleging drug activity at the home of Anthony Diotaiuto, police announced their take this week: two ounces of pot, some plastic baggies, and a set of scales.
Police told reporters the day of the shooting they knew Diotaiuto has a license to possess a weapon, so they sent in the SWAT team to lessen the possibility of violence. They did not explain why they thought a surprise attack on the home of an unsuspecting but presumably armed man would produce a nonviolent result -- and it didn't.
According to Sunset Police Lt. Robert Voss as reported in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the SWAT team knocked on Diotaiuto's door and "announced their presence" before smashing down his door. Voss said police found the victim in his living room and ordered him to "freeze," but he instead fled to his bedroom and "armed himself" with a handgun, whereupon Officers Sean Visners and Andre Bruna unloaded on him. The Broward County medical examiner reported 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest, torso, and limbs.
But next-door neighbor Rudy Strauss told the Sun-Sentinel he and his wife were awake when the raid occurred and heard the crash of Diotauito's door being smashed in, but heard no yelling announcing the presence of police. There were no words spoken outside, he said, adding that he and his wife watched the raid unfold from their window. "I heard this loud bang, and I saw a flash," Strauss said Tuesday. "I never heard them say 'Police.' If somebody were pounding on the door, I would definitely hear that, or if they yelled, 'Police, police!'"
Friends, family members, neighbors and supporters of Diotaiuto reacted angrily and bitterly. ""Nothing adds up," Brian Kickbush, boyfriend of Diotaiuto's mother, Marlene Whittier, said during the visitation at Fred Hunter Funeral Home in nearby Davies. "If they announced themselves, I guess all the neighbors are all liars."
"My son was so frightened by black masks busting his door down in the darkness after he was asleep for one hour," said a distraught Whittier, during a wake held for her only son Tuesday night. "Now what human being in their right mind would not run?"
The anger spilled over into a Sunset city council meeting Tuesday night as at least 15 people wearing black armbands demanded answers and actions. "Sunset Beach police are murderers, cowards, trigger-happy, and more," one friend of Diotaiuto's yelled at stone-faced council members in footage captured by WB39-TV. When one council responded that the council too was upset, he retorted, "If you're that upset, do something about it!"
"Do two ounces of marijuana constitute a death warrant?" Sunrise resident William de Larm, a friend of Diotaiuto's, demanded of the city officials. Police were too aggressive and showed poor judgment, he said, adding that the killing made him "ashamed" to live in Sunset.
Mayor Steve Feren and council members declined to address the charges and complaints about police conduct directly, saying the matter was under investigation. Two investigations are underway, by the department and by the Broward County District Attorney's office.
Friends and family members described Diotaiuto as a hard-working young man who held down two jobs, attended church regularly, and had recently bought the home he was killed in. "They killed an innocent person," said Charlie Steeves, who said he was Diotaiuto's best friend. "He didn't sell drugs. He worked two jobs to buy that house."
Diotaiuto's boss at the Carolina Ale House in Weston, David Arker, said his friend and employee only smoked marijuana "casually," did not sell drugs and was a hard worker.
Diotaiuto's girlfriend, Leslie Kellner, 21, told the Miami Herald he worked a second job as a DJ and had sold his prized sports car to pay for the home he shared with his mother. "If he was a drug dealer, he could have bought his mom a new car, but he couldn't even afford to fix it," said Kellner, 21.