Sweetwater Cop Tasered Innocent Man Fleeing Enraged Ex-Stepfather, Lawsuit Says
Illustration by Kevin Cannon
Lazaro Cancela was eating at a Cuban restaurant in Sweetwater when the meal was rudely interrupted: Gerard Brito, who was formerly married to Cancela's mom, became enraged at the sight of his former step-son and decided to take action, according to a recent complaint reported on by Courthouse News.
Cancela's day quickly went downhill from there, with a wild, belt-swinging chase through the building followed by a Sweetwater cop hastily tasering the fleeing victim of the violence. Cancela is suing the department, claiming he was unjustly injured by the tasering.
The crazy scene began with Brito confronting his ex-stepson.
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"Mr. Brito approached Cancela and made derogatory statements," the complaint says. "Very quickly, the situation escalated to the point where Mr. Brito threatened physical violence and removed his belt; swinging it over his head, attempting to strike Cancela with his belt buckle."
But the bizarre scene didn't stop there. Cancela, trying to get away from the crazed man, then took off running from the restaurant while Brito chased. Eventually Cancela made it to his car in the parking lot, still just ahead of Brito, only to be stopped by a City of Sweetwater police officer.
"Suddenly and without warning" the cop tased Cancela, the website reports. "Cancela slammed to the ground, and struck the right side of his jaw on a concrete parking bumper sustaining a serious fracture of his jaw which required surgery with internal fixation with two plates and nine screws."
Brito -- the man who was the real threat -- ran off, and Cancela's girlfriend and other witnesses told the cop he had tased the wrong guy. Now Cancela, quite understandably, is suing.
While Cancela was at least lucky enough to survive, the incident serves as a strange coda to an investigation recently written by New Times writer Michael E. Miller, who found that Miami, Miami-Dade, and Miami Beach police officers had used their Tasers more than 3,000 times in less than eight years. During that period at least 11 men died after being tased, Miller found, including five in the past 16 months.
For the tiny municipality of Sweetwater, in far west Miami-Dade, the incident is only the latest in a string of controversies: the city's last mayor was busted by the FBI for taking a $40,000 bribe, with more rumored crooked behavior in other departments, and just a few weeks ago Riptide reported that an ex-police commander had filed a civil suit against the current mayor claiming he was fired for inspecting code violations at the mayor's house.
Neither Cancela's attorney not a Sweetwater police spokesman returned Riptide's messages to comment on the suit.