Baptist Minister, Sucker-Punched and Arrested by Miami Police Officer, Calls for Cop Cameras
Anthony Walker in his attorney's office. He is suing the City of Miami
Michael E. Miller
Anthony Walker skidded his car to a stop in front of the police cordon. His hands trembled on the wheel. Tears streamed down his cheeks and welled in his eyes, turning the crime scene before him into a blur of color and light.
Squad car strobes bathed the corner of NW 22nd Street and Third Avenue in red and blue. Behind yellow police tape, dozens of green plastic cones marked the location of bullet casings. At the center of it all: a bright-saffron-colored tarp stained with blood. Walker, a 28-year-old Baptist minister with sleepy eyes and a soft voice, drew a deep breath, stepped out of the car, and approached police officers.
"That's my baby brother, Brandon," he said, pointing to the body beneath the tarp. Before Walker could learn what happened, however, the rest of his family arrived. His mother collapsed onto his shoulder while her middle child, 27-year-old Antwan, brooded in the car.
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Suddenly, Antwan burst out of the vehicle, dipped under the cordon, and raced toward the body. As he tried to lift the tarp off his brother, cops swarmed. Cones and bullet shells skittered across the sidewalk.
Anthony ducked under the tape to restrain Antwan, only to feel an arm tighten around his own neck. Miami Police Det. Fernando Bosch had Anthony in a headlock. Bosch dragged him away from the body and his brothers. But instead of releasing the minister, the detective began throwing uppercuts to his face. Anthony pulled away and put his hands to his bloodied nose. As another cop grabbed the pastor's hands, Bosch sucker-punched him in the face.
The April 9, 2013 incident in Overtown wasn't the first time Miami Police officers have been accused of using excessive force. But this beating was caught by a TV news camera on a helicopter hovering overhead.
Video footage of the violent arrest quickly went viral. The evidence forced Miami Police to discipline Bosch and prompted prosecutors to drop felony charges against the two surviving brothers. Last month, Anthony Walker sued Bosch and the City of Miami for "using unnecessary and unreasonable force." Miami taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The complaint could ultimately have an even bigger impact, however. Since the August 9 police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, communities around the country have clamored for cops to wear body cameras. Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County have both recently moved to require the technology. But the Miami Police Department, perhaps the state's most troubled force, has moved far more slowly.
"This case speaks to the importance of having cameras," says Anthony Walker's attorney, Ray Taseff. "Many times these things happen, and but for the video, claims [of police abuse] wouldn't be brought or would be easily dismissed."
It was the cruelest of ironies that took Anthony back to Overtown. He and his two brothers had been born in the neighborhood in the 1980s, when the scars of the McDuffie riots -- broken windows and burned-out storefronts -- were everywhere. So was crack cocaine.
Anthony, the oldest, attended Booker T. Washington High School. He earned the nickname "Bishop" after starring as a minister in a school play. Soon he began to act the part offstage, volunteering at nursing homes and consoling families of friends killed in the neighborhood.
Eventually, his mother had heard enough gunshots. "My mom saw fit and was blessed enough to get us out of there," Walker says. "I never thought that we would be subjected to that violence in the very same area we moved from."
The Walkers relocated to North Miami-Dade. Anthony finished school and began teaching teenagers at the New Jerusalem Primitive Baptist Church in Liberty City. Brandon, his youngest brother, also stayed out of trouble. He had a broad smile, a contagious laugh, and a clean record. Antwan, however, had trouble following their big brother's example. He was busted twice for selling cocaine and served a year in prison.
So it was a surprise when on April 9 of last year, Anthony picked up the phone to hear something had happened to Brandon. The older brother, wearing a tank top and turquoise swim shorts on his way to Haul-over Beach, pulled a U-turn, sped toward Overtown, and pulled up to the crime scene.
The minister asked a cluster of cops whether the body under the tarp belonged to Brandon Walker. The blues didn't know. As an officer tried to find a detective, Walker's mother and brother Antwan arrived. Neighbors said Brandon was riding his bike to see his newborn son when someone in a passing car gunned him down.
But cops couldn't -- or wouldn't -- confirm the corpse's identity. After a few minutes of stewing inside the car, Antwan suddenly bolted toward the body to see for himself.
"He just wanted to make sure that it was our brother," Anthony says. "He just needed to know."
Before Antwan could lift the tarp, however, he was surrounded by cops. Walker raced after his little brother. "When I got close to him, I grabbed him," he says. "That was the whole point: to grab my brother, to console him, to get him to calm down. I didn't want him to have to see that."
Then Fernando Bosch, a balding detective in a baggy suit and sunglasses, grabbed the minister from behind and put him in a headlock. Bosch began pushing Walker toward the perimeter. But when Walker blindly clawed at the cop's shirt, Bosch threw three rapid-fire uppercuts to his face.
Then came the sucker punch. When the two men separated, Walker lifted his hands to his bleeding nose. Another cop grabbed him from the side as Bosch delivered a left-handed jab to Walker's jaw. Video footage shows Walker crumpling to the pavement as cops slap cuffs on him.
"I wasn't warned, wasn't spoken to or anything," Walker says of the sucker punch. "I don't even remember being knocked out. I remember my hands going up to my face because I was in so much pain after being punched."
The next thing Walker recalls is sitting in the back of a squad car. He wasn't even sure if his baby brother had really been killed. Now he himself was under arrest. "That's when reality hit," he says.
Walker was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, and Antwan was accused of resisting arrest. But video of the crime scene scuffle -- aired on ABC, CBS, and NBC -- was circulating even before they made it to Miami-Dade County Jail.
"When I went to the police station, the officer was looking at the video that went viral online," Walker remembers. "He pretty much said, 'This whole thing is all over the news.' At the time, I couldn't care less."
The brothers spent several days in jail. Anthony's face was a swollen mess. Antwan's mind was unraveling. "I wasn't paying too much attention to what was going on around me because I still had another brother next to me who was completely torn," Anthony says. "I had to be the older brother."
Their only consolation was that corrections officers -- outraged at the Walkers' arrest -- let them call their grieving family members as often as they needed.
"None of that worked to ease any pain or to help me and my brother understand what happened," Walker says, tears rolling down his face. "None of the questions were answered [about my brother's death]. It didn't seem at that time that anyone was concerned about what had happened to my brother. Everybody was concerned about the officer."
It wasn't until Anthony was released four days later that he learned for sure Brandon had been killed. In Anthony's absence, his mother had planned the funeral. "I couldn't stand the thought of my mom doing that alone," Walker says. "So being locked up as long as we were and being away from my family, it killed me. It killed me."
Even after the Walkers laid Brandon to rest, a dark cloud remained over the family. Police hadn't made any arrests in the murder case. Instead, the two Walker brothers were staring at serious charges.
Fernando Bosch, on the other hand, was initially praised for his role in the incident. "At this point, we don't see any wrongdoing on the officer's part," Miami Police Sgt. Freddie Cruz said. "You can see clearly that these individuals were violent with the officers. They had to protect themselves and protect the integrity of the scene."
FOP President Javier Ortiz went so far as to claim that Anthony Walker had tried to choke Bosch by pulling on his tie and that the minister was in "a fighting stance" when the detective knocked him out.
Six months later, however, Bosch was disciplined over the incident. In a reprimand signed by Sgt. Albert Guerra, Bosch was found to have used "more force than was reasonably necessary when he struck Mr. Walker on the face." The video proved that "Walker was completely removed from the crime scene" and subdued by other officers when struck in the face, according to the reprimand.
(Bizarrely, the news helicopter wasn't the only one filming the arrest. Bosch was one of the stars of The First 48, a popular reality TV program. Cameramen from the show were filming everything that happened behind the cordon that day, although it doesn't seem the footage ever aired.
The show has been criticized for encouraging aggressive policing. In January, a New Times investigation found at least 15 men had been freed long after they were hastily arrested on The First 48. Bosch has admitted under oath that he "play-acted" parts of investigations for the show. One month after Bosch beat up Walker on camera, however, The First 48 ended its partnership with Miami Police.
Bosch didn't just appeal his reprimand. He asked for a much harsher, ten-day suspension so he could take the case to a full arbitration hearing. Maj. David Magnusson rejected the request.
This past May, Miami-Dade prosecutors finally dropped all charges against the brothers. And on August 15, Anthony Walker sued Bosch and the City of Miami, repeatedly citing video evidence.
"We are thankful that there were cameras to catch what actually happened here," his attorney, Taseff, says. "So you don't have a situation where people raise skepticism."
Indeed, in the wake of national controversies such as the police shooting of Michael Brown this summer, several Miami-Dade police departments are moving toward more transparency. On September 10, Miami Beach commissioners unanimously approved a plan for cops to use body cameras. And Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has also pushed for his officers to record themselves. (A recent poll by Mason-Dixon shows two-thirds of Miami voters support cop cams.) Gimenez wants to spend about $1 million on 500 body cameras, but the Miami-Dade Police union has filed a grievance complaining the devices place "the lives of the public and the officers in danger."
Miami PD has moved more slowly, however. The department's reluctance is curious considering the criticism it has received in recent months. On July 9, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report finding Miami Police showed a pattern of "excessive force." MPD officers shot 33 suspects in less than four years, including the killings of seven black men in eight months. Two of the fatal shootings were deemed unjustified.
In an email to New Times, Assistant Chief Rodolfo Llanes revealed for the first time that Miami Police will begin testing 50 body cameras in the next few weeks. The department has partnered with the University of South Florida to study the footage for a year before deciding whether to expand or discontinue the program. But "the Detective Bosch case has no bearing on the impetus to study the use of on-body recordings," Llanes said.
The recent push for police cameras is welcome news to Anthony Walker. He knows he could easily be in prison if the news helicopter hadn't filmed his altercation with cops. "Exposure," he says, "is a blessing."
He now uses his nightmarish experience to help reach other young black men. "I always use what I've been through as a testimony," he says, "to let them know that 'my family today, yours tomorrow.' "
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