The Hits Just Keep on Coming
About this there can be no argument: hours after his May 1 run-in with two of Miami Beach's finest, Roger Zayas wound up with one doozy of a shiner.
Less certain is to what extent Zayas's black eye will bruise the carefully cultivated relationship between Miami Beach police and the people they are sworn to protect and to serve. Zayas himself faces up to a year in jail if convicted of felonies that include two counts each of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. But the 30-year-old real estate sales rep maintains that he was the victim of an assault that spring night -- a point-blank punch to the face administered by officer Jonathan Brudzinski. While his criminal case is slated for trial on December 7, Zayas last month filed an internal affairs complaint against Brudzinski and his partner, Bernie Ruder.
The complaint is the second lodged this year against Brudzinski and Ruder, who have patrolled the beach on all-terrain vehicles since last fall. In early August investigators concluded that the two cops had pelted jogger Ed Parsons with anti-gay slurs -- a claim both partners denied under oath -- and that Brudzinski had failed to follow police procedures when he arrested Parsons in January on a loitering charge. The probe dismissed Parsons's claim of brutality and the officers were issued written reprimands for discourtesy, though they remained on the beach patrol.
Unlike Parsons, however, Zayas's encounter with the police involved a physical confrontation that left him with a puffed nose, a blood-speckled shirt, and swollen purple ridges encircling his left eye.
All he did to invite these injuries, Zayas claims, was piss in the wrong place, then panic. According to Zayas, a Miamian who visits South Beach occasionally, the trouble started with a late-night stroll along the shore. At about 11:30 p.m., he says, he headed inland, to an unlit spot where he could relieve his bladder. Before he could finish, though, Zayas found himself silhouetted in police headlights.
"The lead officer, Brudzinski, headed over and immediately made some comment like, `Looks like we've got ourselves another faggot,'" recalls Zayas, whose only other brush with the law was a 1985 misdemeanor arrest for possession of marijuana. "He told me to get up against the wall, and I started to, then I just got scared and bolted."
Zayas says he fled north across the sand, reaching a nearby wooden boardwalk before one of the officers tackled him. "They handcuffed me," he remembers. "Then Brudzinski grabbed my shirt. He pulled me so he could see my face, then punched me in the eye." As he lay bleeding from his nose and eye, Zayas says, Brudzinski offered this spiteful assessment: "Oh, he's gonna have a black eye now!" Before backup units could arrive, he alleges, both cops threw him down, spit on him, and kicked at his midriff. He insists he never resisted the officers physically.
Neither Brudzinski or Ruder, who were contacted through a police public information officer, would discuss the Zayas arrest for this article. But their account of the altercation -- detailed in an arrest form and depositions taken for Zayas's criminal case -- differs sharply from Zayas's. They claim the incident began when Brudzinski spotted Zayas receiving a blowjob from another male. (Zayas was eventually charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, in addition to his battery charges.) Brudzinski told both men to stand against the wall. While Ruder handled the other suspect, Brudzinski began to place Zayas in custody. "I had backed him up toward the wall," Brudzinski testified in a July 20 statement. "And almost the instant that I put my hand on him, he was facing me and he started fighting with me. He breaks and runs maybe four of five feet." Brudzinski quickly tackled Zayas, he claimed, but the suspect escaped. Brudzinski took him down a second time, but again Zayas was able to wrestle free, allegedly punching Brudzinski all the while.
Ruder testified that when he heard the scuffling, he set off after Zayas, inadvertently allowing the second suspect to escape. The officers managed to catch Zayas at the boardwalk, where the struggle allegedly continued. "I grabbed onto Mr. Zayas and, again, we started fighting with him," Brudzinski testified. "We [kept] going down on the ground. This went back and forth three or four times...with the two of us trying to hold him down." It was during this minute-long tussle that Zayas received his "facial lacerations," Brudzinski wrote in his arrest affidavit. Both officers sustained minor bruises and cuts during the incident, but neither required medical attention.
Zayas, who denies there was any second suspect, was transported to a cell for injured prisoners at Jackson Memorial Hospital, though he claims he received no medication and only a cursory examination. He spent about fifteen hours in jail before posting a bail of $5000. "Initially I thought, `What did I do to provoke this?'" Zayas says. "How did it get so out of hand?"
That's a question Manny Crespo, the attorney Zayas retained to defend him in criminal court, wants answered, too. "For my guy to get away from Brudzinski that many times, he'd have to be a combination of gorilla and Godzilla," Crespo scoffs. "These are big guys -- over six feet and 200 pounds. My client weighs 160 pounds." In fact, Zayas says, he waited four months to file an internal affairs complaint partly because he felt intimidated by the officers.
Hopeful the State Attorney's Office will drop the charges before the December 7 trial date, Crespo has set up a meeting with prosecutor Tamara Jarrett this week. "Of course we'll look at whatever Mr. Crespo has," Jarrett says. "The last thing we want to do is try a case where we don't have all the information. That's the number-one rule of stupid prosecuting." She adds, however, that clients accused of battering a police officer often claim they are the victims.
To help build his defense, Crespo also has requested copies of the "Use of Force" report filled out by Brudzinski's and Ruder's supervisor, and photos of all three participants taken immediately after the arrest. To date, he has received neither. Nor has he received a reply from police chief Phillip Huber, to whom he wrote two weeks ago. Huber has publicly sought to improve relations between his force and South Beach's gay community. Most notably, in the spring of 1991 the chief instituted sensitivity training classes intended to provide his officers with a better understanding of the local gay community. Despite receiving numerous phone messages over five days, Huber has not replied, instead refusing through his secretary to comment about Ruder and Brudzinski, or to clarify whether he has spoken with either officer about the complaints lodged against them.
Crespo, however, did receive one prompt reply to his strongly worded missive -- from the manager of Miami Beach's risk management division. "I guess they figured I was interested in filing a civil suit against the city," Crespo notes. "But neither I nor my client are considering such a move at this time. We just want to get his criminal case resolved.
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