Miami, FL – After a police officer was caught on video running up to a man who was handcuffed and restrained on the ground, and kicking his head like a soccer ball for no apparent reason, his police union is speaking out and insisting that he used “great restraint” and should not face charges.
Mario Figueroa, a 2-year veteran of the Miami Police Department, was relieved of duty and charged with misdemeanor assault after his actions were recorded by a witness and the video was posted on Facebook.
In a statement, Police Chief Jorge Colina said, “The city of Miami Police Department received a video on an incident involving one of my officers. The video depicts a clear violation of policy. The officer has been relieved of duty and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has been contacted.”
However, the police union is insisting that not only did Figueroa not do anything wrong but that he showed “great restraint” and his conduct was an example of how police officers should act when they are using “de-escalation techniques” in an arrest.
To be clear, Figueroa can be seen on video running up to a man who is lying on the ground with his arms handcuffed behind his back, and forcefully and intentionally kicking his head as if it was a soccer ball. The man, who also had an officer sitting on his back, had no possible way to pose a threat to Figueroa or to defend himself. The officer then turned around, knelt down, and slammed the man’s head into the ground, assaulting him a second time.
However, according to a statement from Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 20 President Edward Lugo, “The only thing brutal about this entire incident is the suspect that endangered the lives of the community in which our Miami Police officers risked their lives to take this dangerous man off the streets.”
In fact, Lugo insisted that “Miami Police officers are trained to use defensive tactics as well as de-escalate the amount of force necessary to get a suspect to comply,” even though the video makes it clear that the man was already on the ground and in handcuffs, which is proof that he was complying with the officers.
This incident is notable in that it shows a significant difference in rhetoric from local media. While most mainstream outlets regurgitate press releases from police departments, the Miami Herald warned that Figueroa would be let off the hook because his defense would claim that his kick did not strike the man’s face—even though attempting to kick a suspect is still a crime.
Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon took to Twitter to call the incident “disgusting and cowardly” and to share his doubts that Figueroa would be convicted. “I’m more disappointed in the non-assaulting cops who let their brother commit a crime without any noticeable objection. All culpable,” Hardemon wrote.
Third: The courts will opine that there was no excessive use of force because the officer missed and hence no force exerted on arrestee.
— Keon Hardemon (@KeonHardemon) May 4, 2018
The Miami New-Times also called out the hypocrisy surrounding the assault, referring to Lugo’s statement as “so divorced from reality it can only be described as performance art,” and noting that the police union president has a “remarkably shady past as a cop,” which includes working with undercover FBI agents to traffic stolen goods across Miami.
Police identified the handcuffed man on the ground in the video as David Suazo. While they claimed that officers began chasing Suazo because they believed he was driving a stolen car, and they say he crashed it into a nearby wall and took off running, the video of the encounter shows a man surrendering to police and showing no signs that he was going to get up and run.
What’s more, none of the other police officers mentioned the kick in the police report. The report only noted that “while placing the defendant into the back of the police vehicle, the defendant started to tense up his body to avoid being placed in the vehicle.” What measures the officers took to get him inside the vehicle weren’t in the report either.
Suazo’s sister, Maritza Valerio, told CBS Miami that she was shocked to see the video on Facebook because police told the family that nothing happened during the arrest.
“I go home and saw it on Facebook and God, there’s the video of what the sergeant on the scene alleged didn’t happen, which is my brother being on the ground already handcuffed and being kicked in the face by another officer,” Valerio said.
The comments from the local police union are only adding fuel to the fire in an incident where it appears the local media, city officials, and even the chief of police are attempting to hold Mario Figueroa accountable for his actions.