Update: Mooney's lawyer has since voluntarily dismissed the case, clarifying that any abuse she allegedly suffered came while in the custody of the Broward County Sheriff's Office. Mooney plans to re-file the lawsuit.
In 2015, Jessica Mooney sat next to her fiancé at a Fort Lauderdale bus terminal as he filmed Fort Lauderdale Police Officer Victor Ramirez slapping a homeless man in the face. The following year, Ramirez was charged with misdemeanor battery and arrested, and Mooney testified against the cop in court.
Just two weeks after she incriminated the officer, Mooney says, Ramirez's fellow cops wrongfully arrested her outside the Quarterdeck Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, brutally beat her, threw her to the ground, and ultimately sent her to the emergency room. A lawsuit she filed this week includes photographs of her gruesome injuries — her left arm clouded with bruises and her left eye swollen and purple.
Asked if Mooney believed the alleged assault was retaliation for speaking out in court against the cop, her lawyer says he plans to at least raise the question in his lawsuit.
"I don’t know," Robert Selig says. "I really don't know. The facts will have to come out during the trial. But it is just a fact, that she was a witness in that case, and it's a fact that this then happened to her."
An FLPD spokesperson yesterday said she could not immediately comment on the incident.
Mooney's first run-in with the department came February 22, 2015. As Mooney recounted in a video interview with New Times Broward-Palm Beach in 2015, she sat at the bus terminal in Fort Lauderdale as Ramirez patrolled the area. The officer had a long history of excessive-force complaints stemming from his conduct patrolling the terminal, and his encounter with the homeless man, Bruce LaClare, did nothing to dispel that reputation.
The video shot by Mooney's fiancé, which went viral online, shows LaClare walking into the terminal and trying to enter the restroom. Instead, Ramirez forces him to walk outside. The cop grabs LaClare's arm, and LaClare shakes him off — at this, Ramirez shoves LaClare to the ground.
"You're not going to go pee," the cop says. "You're not supposed to pee here."
After exchanging a few more words, Ramirez winds back and slaps LaClare hard across the face. Ramirez magically omitted that portion of the incident from his arrest report.
The incident inspired a protest outside Fort Lauderdale Police headquarters, which Mooney attended.
"My fiancé, as soon as he saw Officer Ramirez put his gloves on, he knew something was going to happen, so he started to record," Mooney recounted that day to a New Times videographer. "Once the officer slapped him and threw him on the floor, I couldn't believe it happened. My stomach was in knots."
Fort Lauderdale Police suspended Ramirez without pay. Despite the existence of crystal-clear video evidence, he was ultimately found not guilty of criminal charges March 16, 2016.
Just eight days later, March 24, Mooney went out for a few drinks at the Quarterdeck Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. She walked out of the restaurant along with her child, but according to the newly filed lawsuit, someone in the restaurant called to report she hadn't paid her $63.57 bill. She had, though, and includes a copy of her credit card receipt in the lawsuit as proof.
FLPD officers showed up and arrested Mooney on petty theft charges, as well as child endangerment. (The theft charges were dropped, while she pleaded no contest to the child-endangerment charge, paid a fine, but did not admit guilt.) At the Broward County Sheriff Main Jail, Mooney says, she verbally sparred with the officers over what she considered to be a false arrest and asked BSO Deputy Amanda Moreno for her name and badge number.
Instead, Mooney says, the officers grabbed her, threw her to the ground, and began kicking and punching her. Her lawyer told Local 10's Bob Norman in 2016 that the officers claimed Mooney yelled obscenities at them and took a swipe at Moreno, but video evidence from the jail cell refuted the police account. Instead, Mooney says, Moreno "smashed her face" onto a fingerprinting machine, and then "three or four more" officers jumped in and began kicking and punching her while she was on the ground.
The Broward State Attorney's Office refused to release video footage from inside the jail cell to Local 10 in 2016, citing a little-known state law that exempts government surveillance footage from public release to prevent those systems from being "compromised."
Prosecutors decided not to charge any officers for the beating.
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According to the new lawsuit, Mooney was taken to the Broward County Jail, where she was held until March 26, two days after her arrest. FLPD then took her to Broward Health Medical Center's emergency room to treat what the police called "head trauma."
It's unclear if the officers who beat Mooney knew she had recently testified against their colleague in court. But the timing certainly remains suspect.
"Separate from all of that, a person doesn’t deserve to be assaulted regardless," says Selig, Mooney's lawyer.
Correction: This story originally misidentified the prosecutor's office declining to release footage of the beating; it was the Broward State Attorney.