Last Thursday, a clip went viral of Miami Police Officer Mario Figueroa taking a running start and kicking the head of a defenseless, handcuffed black man.
Now, in an unusually swift chain of events for local police-misconduct cases, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced this afternoon that her office had charged Figueroa with one count of misdemeanor assault.
"Officer Mario Figueroa can have no excuse for the alleged actions seen on the initial videotape," Rundle announced in an afternoon news release. "This community demands respect for all individuals taken into custody. Any evidence of abuse, which is also evidence of a crime, will assist us going forward."
This isn't the first time Rundle's office has been presented with video clips of Miami-area cops beating or attacking handcuffed or detained suspects, and in the past, she's often declined to file charges. But in this case, she has moved swiftly — perhaps because Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina quickly announced Friday that Figueroa had been suspended with pay and noted in an unusually stern statement that the video "depicted a clear violation of policy," placing added pressure on Rundle's office to take action. (It's worth noting MPD is still being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice after a federal report found the department used excessive force against people of color.)
In a statement posted online just after 2 p.m. after the charges were announced, Miami PD said it also planned to fire Figueroa.
"The Miami Police Department would like to assure the community that it will not tolerate any transgressions against the badge its officers are meant to wear with honor, and remains committed to maintaining the highest possible standards of ethics, transparency, and accountability," Chief Colina said today in a release.
UPDATE: The Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office has charged Officer Mario Figueroa for assaulting a car theft suspect on May 3, 2018. We are beginning the termination process for Officer Figueroa. See full statement below: pic.twitter.com/G7UMFWmKp2— Miami PD (@MiamiPD) May 8, 2018
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The incident occurred just before 10 a.m. Thursday, after police say they chased David V. Suazo, a car theft suspect, in a Jeep Cherokee through Overtown. The officers claim Suazo fled in the Jeep, crashed into a wall, fled on foot, and then tried to fight the officers, but police reports from the arrest do not mention Figueroa's attempt to kick Suazo in the head.
Politicians and police reform advocates have demanded the other officers who witnessed the assault but did not report it or try to stop it also be suspended. So far, that has not happened. The incident also led to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to call for the city to reform its "suspension with pay" policies and give Chief Colina the power to fire officers clearly abusing people.
Rundle's office today said Figueroa was recorded taunting Suazo after the detained man said the cop's initial kick didn't hit his head. "Missed on the kick," Suazo was recorded saying. "Learn how to aim, my boy."
"If I wanted to kick you," Figueroa was recorded saying, "you know I would have kicked you, right?"