The Miami Police Department has new union leadership, but its public statements remain as boneheaded as ever. Yesterday MPD Officer Mario Figueroa was acquitted of assault charges after he was filmed in May 2018 taking a running, football-punt-style kick at a handcuffed suspect's head. A judge ruled that because the kick actually missed, Figueroa didn't commit assault.
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina yesterday told the Miami Herald that, even after the acquittal, he still doesn't think Figueroa should be a cop anymore. But MPD's Fraternal Order of Police, led by siblings Tommy and Matt Reyes, astoundingly chimed in on Twitter to say not only will the union defend him, but also Figueroa should be "commended" for his actions.
"It was going to be a kick and he deescalated as he was trained to do and pulled the kick," the person running the @MiamiFOP Twitter account wrote. "If anything he should be commended for his quick thinking and fast reflexes."
Cellphone video shows Miami police officer appearing to kick suspect in the head during arrest. https://t.co/9on2iiquo7— ABC News (@ABC) May 3, 2018
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said the "video depicts a clear violation of policy" and announced that the officer involved has been relieved of duty. pic.twitter.com/f9SpJDRhzT
The statements don't exactly inspire confidence in the department's new union leadership. For years, Lodge 20 of the FOP was run by Javier Ortiz, a cop with a long list of use-of-force complaints, multiple allegations of perjury, and a penchant for saying racist stuff on social media. Ortiz, who is still a police captain, was a stain on the city and department for years as union chief and routinely fought police oversight and for cops who'd been accused of heinous on-duty conduct. But in December 2018, a group of Ortiz-backed candidates lost their union elections, and brothers Tommy and Matt Reyes were elected president and vice president, respectively. During their campaign, the brothers explicitly accused Ortiz and his cronies of using the union to better themselves at the expense of the rest of the department.
Well, yesterday was an early test for the brothers, and they didn't exactly pass. Figueroa was caught on video taking a running kick at David V. Suazo, an alleged car thief who police say led cops on a chase through Overtown. The video shows Suazo lying on the ground and complying as one cop handcuffs him. Once Suazo's hands are locked behind his back, Figueroa storms into the frame and takes a punt-style kick at Suazo's head.
Body-camera footage later added some ridiculous-seeming context. After the cops carted Suazo to a police station, the suspect mentioned Figueroa's kick actually missed.
"If I wanted to kick you, you know, I would have kicked you, right?" Figueroa responded. He then bizarrely added, "Me pretending to kick you got you to comply."
However, Chief Jorge Colina later said the video did not show actual police techniques but instead depicted "violations of department policy."
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The assault charge that he was acquitted of... We are confident that Officer Figueroa will be reinstated as a Miami Police Officer where he can continue his good work as an officer.— Miami FOP 20 (@miamifop) April 24, 2019
It was not a “fake” strike. It was going to be a kick and he deescalated as he was trained to do and pulled the kick. If anything he should be commended for his quick thinking and fast reflexes.— Miami FOP 20 (@miamifop) April 24, 2019
The Herald yesterday reported that Miami-Dade County Judge Michael Barket acquitted Figueroa halfway through his trial, before the defense even testified. After the prosecution rested its case, FOP lawyer Robert Buschel — most famous for defending Roger Stone after he was arrested as part of the Mueller investigation — asked the judge to acquit his client on the spot. Barket obliged in a move that the Herald said even caught Buschel off-guard for a few minutes.
It's apparently not even clear the judge meant to end the trial. Herald journalist David Ovalle tweeted yesterday evening there is "real belief among courthouse observers that [Barket] didn't realize what he'd just done."