A Miami Police officer who needlessly tasered a homeless man and then covered it up will be reprimanded, his department says. The incident was the central focus of a recent New Times investigation into widespread Taser misuse by Miami cops.
Officer Vincent Miller's punishment has yet to be finalized, a Miami Police spokeswoman said. But his reprimand is nonetheless a watershed moment in Miami's history of misusing the electric-shock weapons.
"It is not the first time an MPD Officer has been reprimanded for Taser use, but in the context of his abuse, it is the first we have found," said Daniel Suarez, a member of the city's Civilian Investigative Panel. "I'm certain there are more."
The incident involving Officer Miller was one of many troubling Taser episodes New Times published in a December 30 report:
Richard Rosengarten walked into Publix at 4:20 p.m. November 15, 2013. Normally, not even Rosengarten, a brilliant and bespectacled University of Miami law student, would remember the exact date and time he went grocery shopping. But it's not every day you see cops electrify an innocent man.
The supermarket's automatic doors parted with a whisper. Ten feet in front of Rosengarten stood Vincent Miller, a tall, powerfully built Miami Police officer recently returned from a ten-month overseas military tour. The officer's broad back was turned to the law student. Between the hulking cop and a sale display cowered a dirty and disheveled man.
"If you ever come here again, I will beat your ass," Miller threatened the homeless man. Then the cop removed the Taser from his belt and thrust it into the man's chest. Rosengarten saw the weapon crackle with 50,000 volts.
The homeless man moaned and curled into himself. Miller zapped him again and then yanked him to his feet. As the officer dragged the man outside, two Publix employees stood nearby, laughing.
What worried Rosengarten most, however, was not the brutality of the arrest. It was that there was no arrest. The homeless man wasn't charged with a crime: He was simply thrown onto the street in pain. Miller didn't even fill out a report on the incident. Instead, it seemed as if the cop were meting out punishment on his own, without a court order.
The incident "shocked my conscience," Rosengarten wrote in a complaint three days later. "I believe Officer Miller engaged in unwarranted abuse of the man he tased."
Despite Rosengarten's repeated complains, the Miami Police Department did not investigate the incident.
Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) -- an independent group that investigates complaints against police -- recommended punishing Miller, however. And New Times independently verified Rosengarten's complaints using electronic data from Officer Miller's own Taser.
Miami Police belatedly launched its own investigation and has apparently reached a conclusion similar to those of the CIP and New Times.
"Ofc. Miller was reprimanded, given a 40 hour suspension, and his off duty at Publix was terminated," said Suarez, although it remains to be seen if he and his union appeal the decision.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg for the PD taking appropriate action on police complaints," he said. "I have complained to the Chief of Police and IA's brass about the lax and flawed investigations conducted and also of the lack of asking questions pertaining to the complaint."
Suarez said the suspension is a welcome sign from new chief Rodolfo Llanes, and proof that the CIP is now taking a more active role in regulating cops.
"The tide is turning," he said. "MPD is finally taking the CIP serious. Chief of Police Llanes is cooperative and actually speaks to us, and the we can agree that we need PROFESSIONAL policeman and not thugs with weapons.
"Our job is to make sure we retain our professional policeman and get rid of the bad ones by proving there injustice to the citizens. The panel is finally being used for what it was created."
Taser abuse goes beyond the Miami Police Department, however. Earlier this week, New Times revealed another case -- this time involving Miami-Dade Police -- in which a teenager was allegedly tasered while handcuffed in the back of a cop car.
New Times has still not received any comment from Miami-Dade Police about that case.
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