Wellington’s Sgt. Reyka: Was he a victim of cop killer?

8:05 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 Local
Broward County Sheriff's Office
Broward County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Reyka, 51, of Wellington was shot and killed in Pompano Beach on Aug. 10, 2007. His son, Sean, is now on the force.

A panicked Shawn Labeet steered his smoking, bullet-riddled Honda into a friend’s driveway. He stepped out, wearing a bulletproof vest, an AK-47 in his right hand. “I just shot a cop,” Labeet told the man at the door. “You got to get me out of here!” Labeet’s shootout with police on Sept. 13, 2007, would claim the life of one Miami-Dade police officer and wound three others.

» 10 years since Sgt. Reyka’s death: No day without pain

It would also make him a target in one of the country’s few unsolved police killings: the murder a month earlier of Wellington resident and Broward Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Reyka. Police now say Labeet is their most likely culprit because of “powerful and compelling evidence.”

That evidence includes statements from two people who place Labeet near the scene of the crime, The Palm Beach Post has learned.

But there are reasons Reyka’s case has remained open, six years and three Broward sheriffs later, and why police twice ruled out Labeet.

Detectives still lack crucial physical evidence, including the getaway car and the gun used in the crime.

And months after Reyka died, three people implicated a band of drug store robbers in the crime. Two women said they overheard one of the robbers talk about the killing — 20 minutes after it happened. One of the robbers’ brothers told police he knew how to find the murder weapon.

Skeptics say Sheriff Scott Israel is using Labeet to close a case that he vowed to solve during his acceptance speech after last year’s election. But that’s not the case, he said.

Labeet has been the sole focus for the lead detective since before Israel was elected. Detective John Curcio worked for 18 months to track down an anonymous tipster. He also flew from Jamaica the only eyewitness, who had been deported.

The anonymous tipster places Labeet near the scene of the crime, and Labeet matches the eyewitness’ description, Curcio said.

Curcio said Labeet is the only suspect who can be tied to the scene, to the same type of getaway car and to the type of weapon used to kill Reyka. He declined to say how.

“When you look at those three factors … Shawn Labeet moves ahead of every other tip,” he said.

Death of a deputy

Sgt. Chris Reyka pulled into the parking lot of the Pompano Beach Walgreens in the early morning hours of Aug. 10, 2007.

Reyka, a husband and father of four, knew the Pompano area well. He’d joined the city’s police force in 1989 and stayed with the Broward Sheriff’s Office when the agency took over a decade later.

In the weeks leading up to Aug. 10, deputies patrolling Pompano had been warned about a robbery crew knocking over 24-hour drug stores in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The crew was following a pattern. In groups of two or three, they’d hit the stores typically between midnight and 4 a.m., for prescription drugs, mostly, but for cash, too. A getaway driver waited in the car.

Reyka was vigilant about checking cars for stolen license plates. Twice he’d been named deputy of the month for locating stolen vehicles that led to arrests.

Reyka pulled into the Walgreens parking lot about 1:40 a.m. He’d found a car parked behind the store and stopped to check the license plate.

He typed the tag number into his car computer before he was ambushed and shot five times with a 9mm handgun. When he was found, his gun was in its holster.

Homicide Detective David Nicholson wasn’t left with much to work with.

The Jamaican witness claimed to see the shooter, a light-skinned Hispanic man, but not much else.

Cameras at a casino next door recorded a white Ford or Mercury sedan speeding away, but police couldn’t find the car.

One of the best clues came from the license plate of the getaway car itself, said Al Lamberti, who became sheriff a month later. Detectives discovered the plate was stolen from a van belonging to an Oakland Park plumber, no more than 15 minutes away.

Investigators scoured the surroundings.

Down the street from the plumber, detectives opened a trash bin outside a self-service car wash. Inside were several rounds of ammunition and a hat, Lamberti said.

The ammunition was the same caliber as the shells at the crime scene, he said. There was just one problem: Detectives had nothing that linked the rounds or the cap to the crime scene.

But they still had a flood of tips from the public — more than 2,500 — to follow, including clues to where the gun and the car were.

Lamberti said police followed up on every single one.

“We drained, I think, every canal in Broward County,” he said.

Every time, he said, they turned up weapons. Just none that was used in the crime.

An undercurrent of violence

At the time Reyka was killed, Labeet was living with his girlfriend of at least eight years, Renee D’Angelo, and their three children in a townhome 40 minutes southwest of Miami.

Living there since December, he hadn’t gone anywhere after Reyka died but would flee quickly after a Miami-Dade officer was killed a month later.

D’Angelo later told police that Labeet was never violent to her and the children.

That wasn’t entirely true. While Labeet attended his girls’ birthday parties and school open houses, he once shot D’Angelo.

His mother, Amy, later told detectives that he was “always a problem child and had anger issues his entire life,” Miami-Dade detectives wrote. “He was not, in her words, ‘a stupid child,’ adding that he attended private schools in the Virgin Islands.”

Labeet’s father had 19 children, including nine sons, with many women. Labeet was the youngest son.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Labeet name was notorious. One of his half-brothers, Ishmael, killed eight people at a posh country club there in 1972. Years later, he overtook his police escort and hijacked an American Airlines flight en route to the United States. He landed it in Cuba, where he was rumored in 2007 to still be alive, according to a Miami Herald article.

Labeet’s mother moved him and several siblings to South Florida in the 1990s, where Labeet graduated from Oakland Park’s Northeast High School with a 4.0 GPA, his mother later told reporters.

From then on, his life would follow a dark and mysterious path.

PHOTOS: Sgt. Chris Reyka

In 2002, Labeet shot and wounded D’Angelo. She would claim later it was an accident, when, in a fit of rage over someone stealing from his apartment, Labeet fired a shotgun into the wall and buckshot hit her in the leg.

He was arrested but didn’t show up for court after posting bond. He fled to the Virgin Islands.

He slipped back into the United States as Kevin Wehner.

Wehner of Jacksonville lost his Florida driver’s license during a trip to the islands. The ID would grant Labeet a new life.

He became Kevin, to his neighbors, to county officials as he registered his cat, even to a Miami-Dade shooting range when he took a “safe shooter” class in June 2004.

The ID also allowed him to legally accumulate weapons.

In February 2006, he bought two Marakov pistols, a Hi-Point rifle and two Romanian-made AK-47s from a Miami gun store, police files show.

In March, he bought three SKS rifles for $89.95 each from a Key Largo gun store. Labeet said he and his father collected firearms and enjoyed shooting and hunting together, the owner later told police.

Fourteen days later, he returned to buy a CZ pistol.

There was a special on the $300 weapon: a free gas mask.

The deal was so good Labeet said he wanted to come back and buy three more pistols and gas masks, plus four bulletproof vests.

That made the owner uneasy, so he sent Labeet on his way with one pistol, but no gas mask.

Labeet always carried a handgun. An AK-47 was usually in the trunk of his car, his girlfriend told police.

Why Labeet felt he needed that kind of protection is unclear. His primary source of income didn’t require it.

He sold puppies.

Bulldogs, boxers, chihuahuas — neighbors often complained of the barking dogs.

Despite its innocent nature, Labeet’s line of work would spark the confrontation that led to his death.

Labeet did not make it a secret that he would shoot it out with police if he ever had to. He told family and friends that he never wanted to go to jail.

John Curcio has been lead detective on the Sergeant Chris Reyka murder case since 2010. He had Reyka's badge number tattooed on his wrist.

Never take him alive

If police tried to arrest him, he said he “would go out in a blaze of glory” and that people “would hear about it on the news,” a fellow dog owner later told police.

That’s exactly what would happen.

On the morning of Sept. 13, 2007, Labeet and D’Angelo drove to a Homestead animal clinic, five minutes from their home. They took two cars.

Labeet wanted to certify that one of his bulldogs was 8 months old. Veterinarians refused, later telling police that the animal was actually 2 1/2 years old.

Labeet drove home angry.

“He was driving kind of — kind of fast and taking the corners kind of shaky, and that was it. Like he was mad at something,” D’Angelo later said.

He drew the attention of Miami-Dade officers Jose Somohano and Christopher Carlin, patrolling in plainclothes and an unmarked car.

They saw Labeet’s maroon Buick LeSabre racing down the road and turned around.

Labeet stopped and ran into his backyard with Somohano and Carlin in pursuit.

Barking dogs kept the officers from jumping the fence. Meanwhile, D’Angelo pulled her white Honda Accord into the driveway.

The officers asked who was at home, and she said her boyfriend, Kevin, wasn’t there. She allowed them inside.

Through a window, they spotted Labeet in the backyard. Labeet ran, and the officers chased him. Labeet managed to doubled back, jump the fence and slip in through the back door. He donned his bulletproof vest and grabbed his AK-47.

Somohano went straight to the front door.

Several neighbors watched him reach for the knob.

But Labeet fired first.Somohano fell, shot in the head.

Labeet then walked outside, stood over Somohano and pumped several more rounds into him.

“Did the officer ever return fire?” a detective asked one neighbor.

“No, he was not able to.”

Carlin heard the shots and ran to the front of the house. He saw Somohano lifeless on the ground, Labeet sitting in the driver’s seat of the Accord and D’Angelo standing outside the car, talking to him.

Carlin yelled for Labeet to get out of the car. Instead, Labeet started shooting. He hit Carlin in the right leg.

Two other officers arrived. They, too, opened fire but were outgunned.

Labeet hit officer Jody Wright in the right leg, shattering her femur. Officer Tomas Tundidor also was wounded before Labeet got away. All three officers would recover. Somohano, 37, a married father of two, would not.

Labeet’s willingness to gun down a cop unprovoked would later attract the attention of the detective on the Reyka case.

Panicked flight

Labeet pulled into a friend’s driveway shortly before noon, a car seat and a dog still in the back seat.

A friend, Lazaro Guardiola, was in the kitchen drinking coffee. He answered the door immediately.

“I just shot a cop,” Labeet said. “You got to get me out of here.”

Labeet ditched his car, his vest and the AK-47. He shaved his beard in the bathroom sink. Guardiola and two others then drove him to meet his brother at a remote spot in north Miami-Dade.

Along the way, Labeet called his brother, Shane, who was shopping with his wife and children before they moved back to the Virgin Islands the next day.

“I’m in trouble, I’m in trouble,” Labeet told Shane.

“He asked me to get on the turnpike and come and pick him up,” Shane recounted to police.

“And you agreed to?” a detective asked him.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he replied.

Once in the car, Labeet told them what happened.

“He started to tell me the actual shooting was involving the actual police and him,” Shane told police. “That he didn’t (know) how — it happened too quickly — he didn’t know how it occurred. He was driving a little carelessly and I guess the police officer was trying to pull him over and the next thing he knew they were exchanging gunfire.”

Shane and his wife didn’t want Shawn around their children, so they dropped him off at their cousin’s house.

“I came out, grabbed the kids, grabbed my wife, hugged and kissed him and told him, ‘Good luck,’” Shane said.

They didn’t call police.

Police on his trail 

Miami-Dade police homicide Detective Larry Belyeu got the call.

There’s been a police shooting and an officer is down, he was told. Get there.

The crime scene outside Labeet’s apartment was extensive, he recalled recently.

“He was shooting everything,” he said of Labeet. “There was a lot of gunshot evidence.”

By 2 p.m., roughly three hours after Somohano was killed, police found Labeet’s car. The dog inside was dead, Belyeu said.

They found the AK-47, the bulletproof vest and the clippings from Labeet’s beard.

Initially, Guardiola and his friends denied having anything to do with Labeet. But they eventually cracked.

Police also found Shane Labeet and his family. Officers swarmed them in a mall parking lot, and they told detectives what happened.

All were arrested for obstructing police.

Police also found Labeet’s cousin, Jaleel Torres. Torres had taken Labeet to a Pembroke Pines apartment complex.

After being dropped off, Labeet called Torres and asked him to bring women’s clothes. Torres refused.

He told police Labeet was hiding in a bathroom at the complex’s pool.

What happened next is unclear because the investigation remains open, six years later. Police and prosecutors declined to release records of the incident.

When Miami-Dade SWAT officers arrived, about 13 hours after he killed Somohano, Labeet wore a wig and makeup, Belyeu said. Labeet wanted to flee to the Virgin Islands as a woman.

He still shot it out with police.

They shot him 15 times. He died at the scene.

A band of drug-store robbers

About a week after Somohano’s death, Belyeu received a call from Nicholson, the Broward detective assigned to the Reyka murder.

Nicholson had a hunch, and he wanted to compare notes. Both detectives had a suspect who fit a unique profile.

“My guy was an attacker who went after the police, and so was (the suspect in the) Reyka (case),” Belyeu said. “So it fit.”

Belyeu also had a trove of ballistics evidence for Nicholson to compare. Detectives found several guns inside Labeet’s home.

But Labeet’s weapons didn’t match the casings found at the Reyka murder scene.

Eventually Labeet was ruled out, Lamberti said.

Detectives soon found another lead.

After Reyka was killed, the drug-store robbers struck three more times before police caught them. Among those arrested were Gerald Joshua, 27; Timothy Johnson, 34; and Deitrick Johnson, 22, all of Broward County, and all with criminal records.

Detectives immediately suspected them in the Reyka killing.

They’d say, “I’ll admit to the robberies, but I won’t admit to the shooting,” Lamberti said.

Police had little leverage against them. Several faced life sentences for the robberies.

Gerald Joshua, serving time for a string of drug-store robberies.

They also didn’t have anything linking them to the crime scene, according to lawyer Michael Gottlieb, who represented Timothy Johnson.

Gottlieb denies that his client had anything to do with Reyka’s death. Police traced Johnson’s cell phone to the scene of several robberies, but not the Pompano Beach Walgreens where Rekya was killed, he said.

The crew was particularly violent, and clever. They threatened to kill drug-store employees. Before the robberies, they would sign into hospital ledgers so they could claim they were at pharmacies getting prescription drugs.

Police also arrested Consuela Jones on charges of tampering with evidence, alleging she paid someone $100 to break into an apartment and dispose of several guns used in the robberies.

What Jones told her lawyer and private investigator could have changed the Reyka case.

Jones and another woman gave sworn statements to private investigator Dan Riemer claiming that they overheard a phone conversation between Timothy Johnson and another man about 20 minutes after Reyka died.

During the conversation, Timothy Johnson told the man that “the robbery went bad … the (expletive) with the dreads shot a cracker.” Johnson told the man to check out the police helicopters overhead.

“Walk outside and see … there are cops everywhere.”

Joshua wore his hair in dreadlocks.

Riemer and lawyer Joseph Poppacoda were convinced that they had uncovered a critical lead in an unsolved murder, and they hoped it would help their client in her criminal case.

The pair turned the information over to police. But when police didn’t charge Johnson or Joshua, they filed an unusual civilian arrest warrant for the two men. It was eventually denied.

There were problems with Jones’ credibility, however.

She said that the white car used in the robbery was dumped into a lake, and that it had been loaned by a local dealership.

Police searched the lake and turned up nothing. The dealership tip was equally fruitless.

Riemer said recently he had found some credibility in Jones’ statements. He went to the Pompano Beach neighorhood where Joshua and Jones lived.

The crack dealers and prostitutes there “all had info on Reyka,” he said, but they were reluctant to speak to police.

In addition to Jones, however, Johnson’s brother, Allen, led detectives to a canal where he believed four guns were tossed. The brother told police he believed one of the guns was used to kill Reyka.

Three of the four guns were recovered, and they didn’t match those used in the murder.

Lamberti said even though police found nothing, he believes Jones.

There’s “no doubt she was in the room” when Johnson spoke about Reyka’s killing, Lamberti said. “It’s still possible she knows something.”

Jones, who was acquitted of the tampering charge, declined to comment.

Both Johnson and Joshua were convicted of the robbery charges. Johnson, who received a life sentence, and Joshua, who’s imprisoned until 2018, did not respond to requests for comment.

No link to fingerprints 

Years went by without much new information on the case. Lamberti sent shell casings from the scene to a British forensic scientist who developed a new technique for lifting fingerprints.

The scientist found prints, but Lamberti said they found no match.

In 2010, Nicholson retired and Lamberti tapped Curcio, a former Fort Lauderdale homicide detective, to take over.

Curcio said until Labeet’s rampage, none of the 2,500 tips police received in the weeks after the Reyka murder mentioned him.

However, Curcio said he tracked down one of those anonymous tipsters, who hardened his belief that Labeet is his man.

The case also has taken on political overtones. Scott Israel challenged Lamberti twice for the sheriff’s seat. He won the second time, and during his swearing-in ceremony, he vowed, “We must solve the Chris Reyka slaying, and we will.”

Seven months after taking office, Israel held a news conference identifying Labeet as the “focus” and asking the public for help. Many were skeptical of his motivations. Others saw it as a jab at Lamberti.

Lamberti refused to discuss the news conference in recent interviews. Curcio, however, said the event was his own idea.

Within 10 days of taking office, Israel asked Curcio and his bosses what they needed on the Reyka case. One request: fly in the only witness from Jamaica to be reinterviewed.

Another was a news conference asking the public for tips about Labeet.

“They wanted to reinvent the passion for this case in the community,” Israel said recently.

He added that he “couldn’t, in good conscience,” criticize the handling of the investigation before he took office.

Reyka’s family did not respond to requests for comment. But Sean Reyka, Chris Reyka’s son, said in a written statement that police always have sought the family’s approval before holding events, such as the summer’s news conference. Sean joined BSO as a deputy last year.

“At no point have we felt forced to attend an event or show our support for a cause,” he wrote.

Before police can close the case, they’ll have to get the state attorney to sign off on it. He’ll have to meet the same standard as if the suspect were alive. But if they go after Labeet and he’s not the guy, it potentially could harm a case against anyone else.

Curcio is trying to find the perfect suspect, the round peg in the round hole. It might be impossible.

But Labeet is the closest thing he’s found, he said.

“I’ve never found an edge on him yet,” Curcio said. “He continues to be the round peg in the round hole.”

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