Miami Cop Who Arrested Hannibal Buress Caught Choking Man After Fireball Binge

A Miller's Ale House chain location in Tallahassee
A Miller's Ale House chain location in Tallahassee Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons
Comedian and TV star Hannibal Buress walked out of a Wynwood bar during Art Basel 2017, stepped right up to Miami Police Officer Luis Verne, and shouted "This cop is stupid as fuck" right into Verne's body camera. Though certainly confrontational, the incident was both legal and hilarious. Verne disagreed and arrested Buress on public intoxication charges that Buress called nonsense, and which prosecutors later dropped.

But it turns out that before the Buress incident, Verne had gotten into some alcohol-related trouble of his own. Miami PD's internal affairs bureau found that Verne was at a Miller's Ale House with two other off-duty cops drinking Fireball whiskey before Verne choked a patron and ran away before the cops arrived.

In fact, according to the city's Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), Verne has now repeatedly been accused of off-duty incidents "where allegations were made that he was under the influence of alcohol and had anger issues." In one January 2018 incident, an off-duty Verne allegedly rammed a Jeep into a motorist, chased down their car, whipped out a police badge, and yelled, "You don't know who you are fucking with. If you leave now, I'll forget this happened."

It's unclear whether he was disciplined for that incident.

But Verne did get whacked by his bosses for the 2017 bar fight. According to CIP and internal affairs documents New Times obtained, Verne and two other cops were drinking at a Miller's Ale House in Kendall when a witness claimed she saw a fight. Verne was with two other off-duty MPD officers that night — Brandon Carmona and Adrian Santos, who was later arrested in a separate incident after he was allegedly videotaped snorting cocaine inside the nightclub E11even while topless women danced nearby. Santos was fired in January.

Miami PD's IA department obtained a copy of Carmona's bar tab that night. It showed the three cops were drinking a combination of Fireball, Tito's Handmade Vodka, and Sierra Mist. That concoction helped grease the wheels for what allegedly happened next: Internal affairs investigators say Verne got into a heated argument with another drunk patron and wound up choking him hard enough to leave bruises.

A witness said Verne "attacked" the other man, although the three cops later claimed the drunk Ale House guest had spewed "obscene" comments at Verne, including calling him a "pig."

An Ale House waitress later told authorities she also witnessed the fight. According to surveillance footage, around 1 a.m. Verne walked directly up to the victim, Sebastian Sierra, grabbed him by the neck, and shoved him against a "dividing wall" between two tables. Sierra's baseball cap fell off. Investigators say the footage then shows a crowd of people trying to pull the two men apart.

The victim called police, but Verne fled the bar before they arrived, leaving his two fellow cop buddies to deal with the damage and pay his bar tab. Verne told investigators he called himself an Uber.

Miami-Dade County Police officers showed up just after 1:16 a.m. to find the victim "severely under the influence of alcohol.” The man told MDPD that a plainclothes Miami cop choked him "for no reason." He later told IA investigators that Verne was bothering a woman at the bar and that the woman asked for help getting the cop to leave her alone.

Internal affairs also whacked Santos and Carmona. None of the three officers reported the incident to supervisors, which is a violation of departmental policy. And even though the two other off-duty cops were at the bar when police arrived, neither spoke to those officers to report what had happened.

Internal affairs sustained the allegations against all three cops, but the files New Times obtained do not indicate whether the cops received any punishment. Florida's Law Enforcement Bill of Rights says officers cannot be disciplined if an investigation is not completed within 180 days. This investigation took more than a year. IA closed the bar-fight case July 2.

Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, an advisory board that can investigate police misconduct but has no power to discipline officers, is scheduled to discuss the case at its next meeting September 18. In an initial investigation, CIP recommended disciplining the officers.

"Officer Verne committed a battery when he actually and intentionally touched Mr. Sierra against his will, was less than truthful when he provided IA with his sworn statement, and failed to report the incident to his department," CIP documents state.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.