Miami's New Police Chief Suspends Cop Caught on Camera Kicking Handcuffed Man
The video showing Miami police officer Mario Figueroa kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head was routine as far as law enforcement goes.
It's a scenario that usually plays out seconds after a fleeing suspect surrenders or is subdued by a cop and is kicked in the head by a second cop who comes running up for the cheap shot.
Considering how many times it's been caught on camera (just watch the above video), we can imagine it takes place more times than police would admit.
What is not routine is for the police chief and county prosecutor to speak out against the cop within hours after the incident, but that is exactly what happened after Thursday's video went viral after a woman posted it to Facebook.
After all, we're talking about a beleaguered police department that has been rife with corruption and abuse for decades now, a department that has long protected its abusive cops.
In fact, it was just five years ago that the United States Department of Justice investigated the Miami Police Department, concluding that it "has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution."
We're also talking about a county prosecutor who is renowned for giving these same abusive cops a pass.
In fact, it was only five days ago that the Miami New Times published a scathing article on Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle about how she failed to prosecute a corrections officer who was later indicted by a federal jury for ordering juvenile inmates to attack a teenager who had mouthed off to him.
The 17-year-old ended up dying from the beating as we reported this week.
According to the Miami New Times:
Curiously, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office first investigated this fight and in January 2017 claimed there wasn't enough evidence to charge Johnson with a crime. Rundle's office wrote in a final memo that her investigators found Johnson was actually trying to break up the fight.
But that finding flies in the face of the evidence cited in the federal indictment unsealed today. The feds say Johnson actually hid in a closet during the beating and then rewarded the kids who beat Revolte to death by distributing snacks and letting them watch TV outside of their cells. The feds even claim Johnson fist-bumped the inmate who initially began attacking Revolte.
All of those details were missing from Rundle's 2017 account of the fatal fight. Rundle's spokesperson, Ed Griffith, did not immediately respond to a message asking why the state and federal accounts of the same beating appear to be so different.
The discrepancy between the two reports is jarring and raises serious questions about Rundle's investigation. During her 25-year tenure, she has never charged an on-duty police officer for killing a person, and her office neglected to charge four prison guards who oversaw the death of Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic inmate who many witnesses say was scalded to death with near-boiling-hot water as punishment for defecating in his cell.
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina is the fifth chief to lead the department in nine years, having been sworn in on January 26.
Colina took the reigns with the usual talking points made by incoming police chiefs, vowing to increase transparency and build trust within the community.
But on Thursday, three hours after the incident was posted online, Colina took to Twitter, saying the officer's actions were a "clear violation of policy" and that he has suspended the officer (with pay), so maybe he is backing up his words with actions.
And Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle followed with her own Facebook post saying she was "shocked and appalled" by the officer's actions, vowing a thorough investigation, which was shocking considering her protective nature for dirty cops.
The cynic in me expects the cop to claim he feared for his safety, so Rundle will give him a pass.
After all, Miami police claimed in their arrest report that David Vladim Suazo, the 31-year-old man who was kicked in the head, had taken a "fighting stance," which is a common cop excuse to justify violence, ranking just below the "I feared for my life" ace card.
The video does not show that but it does not begin until Sauzo is already laying facedown, allowing another officer to stand over him and handcuff him.
No mention is made in the arrest report of Figueroa kicking Sauzo in the head, so once again we are reminded of the importance of recording every interaction with police.
The witness who recorded the altercation made no mention of Sauzo taking a fighting stance, according to the Miami Herald.
The encounter was captured on cellphone video by Lisa Harrell, a former Florida International University student who lives at the Culmer Apartments on Northwest Eighth Street and Seventh Avenue in the Overtown section of Miami. She said she was so outraged she posted the video on her Facebook page and sent a copy to the city of Miami.
The stay-at-home mom was inside her apartment just before 10 a.m. Thursday and went outside, she said, when her dog wouldn't stop barking.
That's when she said she saw Suazo running back and forth through courtyards in the apartment complex, until he was trapped and gave himself up, laying prone on the grass.
"He ran around and then he was face-to-face with police," Harrell said. "He put his hands on his head. The police said lay down. He did. And then the police just came and kicked him."
On Facebook, Harrell posted, "He was down already. Didn't have to kick him!!! I will not let this go unnoticed."
The 51-second video clearly shows a man lying on his stomach on the grass with his hands over his head. A dog can be heard barking in the background. As one officer cautiously approaches from the right and bends down to handcuff the suspect, Figueroa races in from the right side of the frame and kicks violently at the prone man's head.
He kicked so hard he almost fell over.
Suazo is charged with fleeing an officer and grand theft auto. He was unarmed when taken into custody.