Lamont Collins had no idea why a Miami cop handcuffed him and dragged him into a dark, unmarked room in the back of the Publix at NE 17th Terrace and Biscayne Boulevard. His terror only grew when the officer threw him to the floor and repeatedly held a charged Taser to his head.
"He knelt down with his knee on me and... pressed a Taser into my jaw," Collins wrote in a complaint to the city's independent Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP). "[I] begged him not to fire it."
Collins didn't know it, but that veteran cop — Officer Vincent Miller — has one of the force's worst records of misusing his Taser, a potentially lethal weapon. In fact, just last year Miller was officially reprimanded for needlessly tasering a homeless man at the same Publix and then trying to cover it up.
Give Miller credit for consistency. Confronted with Collins' claims, he told police investigators he'd never pulled his Taser or threatened Collins. He was lying again. Taser's records proved he had indeed charged the weapon twice that night, while video cameras showed him dragging Collins into Publix's back room.
Even more galling, despite that evidence, IA investigators found Collins' complaint "inconclusive" while dragging the case out for nine months. But last week, the CIP found that Miller was indeed guilty of abusive conduct.
The case is the latest indication that Taser use is poorly supervised and that the weapon is regularly misused by police. A recent New Times investigation found local cops had tasered suspects 3,000 times in the past eight years, killing 11 of them.
Officer Miller was among the worst offenders. He'd tasered at least five homeless men suspected of shoplifting and racked up 20 citizen complaints.
Collins' nightmarish encounter with Miller at the supermarket began around 10 p.m. last December 17. He'd just finished washing clothes when he went to the store for some dinner, buying three kinds of pasta and eating them on the store's front steps. When he went back in for water, Miller handcuffed him and dragged him into the back room. Miller wouldn't answer when Collins repeatedly asked what he'd done, he writes in his complaint.
"He turned off the lights and again knelt on me and put the Taser... on my jaw," Collins writes. "I thought I surely was going to die."
When Miller finally let him go and Collins asked "why he wanted to kill me," he says the cop just asked, "You wanna go back to that room?"
IA investigators spent a full nine months on the case and interviewed Miller. He told them Collins had eaten food without paying and harassed him by saying, "You have a big ass." He "did not recall" whether he took Collins to a back room but denied knocking him down or threatening him with a Taser. In August, IA dismissed Collins' complaint as "inconclusive."
That's when the CIP picked it up. The agency did the detective work that IA apparently wasn't interested in completing, requesting Taser's automatically generated reports and looking at Publix's surveillance cameras. They quickly proved Miller was lying. Taser's records showed that Miller had twice armed and charged his Taser within a one-minute span that matched the same time he was arresting Collins.
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Last week, the agency officially ruled that Miller had indeed been guilty of abusive conduct. Threatening a handcuffed man with a Taser goes against department policies, they note.
"The evidence shows that Officer Miller armed his Taser when no resistance was being encountered," the CIP writes.
So what will happen to Miller now? Probably very little. The CIP isn't able to directly punish cops. And despite being "reprimanded" last year for similar behavior, Miller is still working at the same Publix, still breaking department rules about how to use Tasers, and still lying about it.