February 26, 2015 - 4:30 pm
Two South Florida law enforcement officers are under fire after witnesses used their cell phones to capture footage of them possibly mistreating arrestees.
The first video, recorded Sunday afternoon, shows Fort Lauderdale police officer Victor Ramirez escorting Bruce Laclair, who CNN affiliate WSVN reports is homeless, at a bus terminal.
According to the arrest report, Ramirez, who was working an off-duty detail at the time, saw the man sleeping on a bench and asked him to wake up and go somewhere else. The man cursed at Ramirez and told the officer to leave him alone, the report says.
Ramirez wrote in the report that he told Laclair to leave the terminal and gave him plenty of time to leave.
“After ignoring me, I grabbed Laclair and arrested him for trespassing after warning,” the report says.
Video shows the nine-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department shoving the 58-year-old man to the ground. The two argue for a few seconds and, after telling the man to “get up” multiple times, Ramirez reaches for Laclair’s arm.
Laclair pulls away, and Ramirez slaps the man in the face as he’s still sitting on the ground.
“I’m not f***ing around with you. Don’t f***ing touch me,” Ramirez tells the man before handcuffing him.
Ramirez is on paid leave while an investigation is underway, police say. Reached by telephone, Ramirez declined to comment on the video.
“The video is concerning,” Fort Lauderdale police Capt. Francis Sousa said. “We realize what the perception of the video (is). However, we ask that the public be patient and allow the process to play itself out. The Broward County State Attorney’s Office is going to investigate this first, and upon completion of that, we’ll conduct our own thorough and unbiased investigation.”
The man in the video has pleaded no contest to the charge. After his court appearance Monday, he told WSVN he did not know what happened.
“I’m pissed off,” he said. “Most of the police officers around here are very reasonable, good people who just have a job to do. This guy, I don’t know what his problem is.”
The second video, shot Monday by attorney Bill Gelin at the Broward County Courthouse, shows Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Johnson dragging a handcuffed, screaming woman down a hallway by her leg restraints.
The 28-year-old inmate, whom CNN is not identifying, is mentally ill, according to WSVN, and she was at the courthouse for a probation violation involving criminal mischief and trespassing. When she was told she was not allowed to say goodbye to her mother, she was taken to the hallway and told to sit on a bench, which she refused to do, WSVN reported.
Johnson said he witnessed the woman being “loud, disrespectful and uncooperative” toward a judge, and when she attempted to leave the jury box area, he “tried to physically impede her” until the proceedings were complete, according to the officer’s narrative.
After she cursed at Johnson while trying to leave the courtroom, Johnson wrote in his narrative, “I immediately pulled her out of the courtroom, by her waist-chain.”
She pulled herself from his grasp and tried to sit in a public area, so after giving her several commands and “fearing she would cause a commotion in the public area, I then physically grabbed (her) by her leg (restraints),” the officer’s narrative said.
As Johnson drags her by her ankle restraints, the woman, whose shirt rides up her torso, cries and tells the deputy, “You’re hurting me,” the video shows. She clutches onto a sign as he attempts to pull her through a doorway.
“It reminded me of the Wild West when they would rope these guys and drag them from a horse by their feet — but this was actually metal shackles,” Gelin said. “When I first came out I didn’t know if this woman had attacked somebody or needed to be on the ground like that, but I’m telling you, within seconds, it became apparent that she was just completely and totally mentally ill, and this is not how you do things in 2015.”
He likened her treatment to “torture.”
Gelin’s wife, Lynn DeSanti, the chief assistant public defender in charge of the division that represents the dragged woman, saw the whole incident and called the deputy’s behavior “a huge disgrace.”
“She wasn’t just dragged a couple feet. She was dragged throughout most of the third floor of the courthouse, and it was not necessary and it was really just egregious conduct,” she said. “To treat one of the most fragile, vulnerable people in society that way, there was no reason for it.”
The woman, who has been in jail since December 30 on a probation violation, had gone before a judge for a competency hearing prior to the dragging incident, DeSanti said. She’s been examined again since the incident, she said.
“We’ve had two doctors that have evaluated her and, in their opinion, she is not competent to proceed, meaning that her mental health is so fragile that she can’t go forward with the charges right now,” DeSanti said.
“It was disturbing, to say the least,” Gelin told CNN. “This is somebody who was obviously mentally ill and it was like torture. How can you do this to another human being, particularly one who’s mentally ill?”
Johnson is on restricted duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
“I am concerned by the way the deputy handled this situation because there were other courses of action he could have taken,” Broward County Sheriff Steve Israel said. “Internal Affairs has initiated a complete and comprehensive investigation.”