Ever since he was roughed up and arrested in a 2015 traffic stop on the Rickenbacker Causeway, Ruben Sebastian has been clamoring for some sort of justice. Despite the fact that prosecutors dropped the charges against him, Sebastian lost his job as an armed security guard and had to move out of his apartment because he couldn't make rent.
In 2016, Sebastian filed a lawsuit claiming excessive use of force by the cop he says was responsible: Javier Ortiz, now a captain with the Miami Police Department who at the time was a lieutenant and the powerful head of the department's union, the Fraternal Order of Police.
Now both sides have agreed to settle the federal case out of court. The settlement, which is set to go before the Miami City Commission for approval next Thursday, would cost the city $65,000. Sebastian's attorney, David Frankel, says they declined an earlier offer of $25,000, which the city attorney could have OK'ed without commission approval.
"I wanted something that would force them to go in front of the commission so the commission couldn't blind itself about paying that money," Frankel says.
Though the settlement does not require the city to admit any liability, Sebastian hopes it will create some accountability for Ortiz, whose record includes a long list of excessive force and wrongful arrest complaints from citizens.
"Now he has to present himself in front of the commission and at least try to explain his way out of this, which, there is no way to explain his way out," Sebastian says.
Attorneys for Ortiz did not respond to a message from New Times seeking comment.
The settlement comes after an appellate judge, U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, issued a March ruling siding with Sebastian:
Under the unusual facts alleged by Sebastian we have no doubt that the force was objectively disproportionate and altogether gratuitous. We do not mean to give law enforcement officers pause each time they employ handcuffs in the heat of an arrest, and only the most exceptional circumstances will permit an excessive force claim on the basis of handcuffing alone. The peculiar facts of this case, not least the reapplication of excessively tightened cuffs after Sebastian first complained and the five-hour period Sebastian spent restrained in the cuffs at the station after his arrest, cross over "the hazy border between excessive and acceptable force” such that any reasonable officer would know he had violated the Constitution.
With the federal suit concluded, Sebastian and Frankel are still moving forward with a state case against Ortiz on charges of wrongful arrest and battery.
"It's just an appetizer for what's coming later," Sebastian says of the federal settlement. "We're just dipping the bread."
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