In December 2014, Danielle Venezia says, she was sitting in the passenger's seat of a friend's car on SW 63rd Court in South Miami when her fiancé walked up, ripped open the door, and yanked her out of the car. Venezia says he then began "shoving her around."
She called cops to file a domestic violence complaint. But, according to a lawsuit Venezia filed last week in federal court, South Miami Police ended up harassing and arresting her instead. The cops allegedly took her on a harrowing "rough ride" that bruised her face, and stripped her nude in front of male inmates at a county jail.
Her claims echo recent studies suggesting local police often make domestic violence situations needlessly worse. A nationwide study conducted in 2015 by the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that more than half of the respondents feared calling local cops out of fear they would do nothing or believe the accuser and harass or arrest the victim instead.
South Miami Police did not respond to a message from New Times requesting comment on the lawsuit. Departments typically do not comment on pending litigation.
In her case, Venezia says, her fiancé fled the scene before police arrived. But two South Miami cops "briefly spoke to" Venezia and her friend and then left. That evening, Venezia alleges, the cops showed up at her home without warrant. She'd just taken off her shoes to relax for the night. Because her fiancé wasn't home at the time, she says, she asked the cops to come back another time. That comment set them off, she claims.
"Venezia opened her front door to inform the officers that her fiancé was not on the property and that she was going to bed," the suit says. "When she asked the officers to leave, [they] reached their hands through the open door, forcibly grabbed Venezia, placed handcuffs on her tightly, took her out of her home and through the street barefoot against her will, and threw her into the back of their squad car." According to the suit, the cops didn't tell Venezia what she'd done, nor did they read her Miranda rights.
She was taken to the South Miami jail. But she was still shoeless — according to the suit, Venezia's feet had become bruised, and she wrapped them in toilet paper to insulate them against the cold floor.
As she was doing that, she alleges, the cops took inventory of her property. The officers allegedly picked up her engagement ring and began kicking it back and forth to one another on the floor to taunt her.
She remained in jail until 6 a.m., when one of the cops scolded her for not having shoes and said he was taking her to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK) for processing. The suit alleges that Venezia was thrown into the back of a cop car without any restraints and that the cop allegedly swerved while driving, intentionally forcing her head to slam against the sides of the car. (In some cities, this process is known as a "nickel ride" or "rough ride" and has led to multiple civil rights and use-of-force lawsuits. Cops allegedly killed Baltimore's Freddie Gray using a rough ride in 2015.)
The suit says the officer "drove the transport van in an erratic and dangerous manner, violently swerving from side to side, causing Venezia to hit her head several times against the van’s walls, which left her with significant bruises on her face."
Once at the correctional center, Venezia says, she was stripped nude, placed in a smock, and "forced to remain in the booking room, half naked and distressed, among male inmates." The suit says the cops told TGK employees that Venezia was "suicidal" (a charge she denies). Records show she was eventually charged with "disorderly intoxication," but the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office quickly dropped the charges.
Venezia is now suing the City of South Miami for false imprisonment, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and multiple civil rights violations.
The cops "arrested Venezia after they were called to investigate an assault by her fiancé," the suit says. "After confining Venezia in the holding cell against her will, [they] engaged in extreme and outrageous behavior by intentionally kicking around Venezia’s engagement ring in front of her while mocking her, causing Venezia severe emotional distress."