Around 7 p.m. last December 10, Miami resident Oscar Julien-Riou — a 63-year-old Army veteran, retired nurse, and minister — was sitting in Liberty City's Alonzo Kelly Park alone with his phone in his hand. He lived across the street. He says he was minding his own business and filming as he recorded notes about his life on his cell phone when a Miami Police cruiser rolled up.
Julien-Riou continued filming as the cop said the park was closed, told him to leave, and then abruptly slammed the military veteran onto the ground for virtually no reason. Julien-Riou had already agreed to leave the park — but the video, posted below, shows the MPD officer, Ioannys Llanes, claimed Julien-Riou had thrown something onto the ground as he walked away. The cop ultimately recovered nothing illegal.
“You’re hurting me, sir!" the retiree shouted as he was pinned to the ground.
In April, Julien-Riou held a news conference alongside his lawyer Rawsi Williams and Miami-Dade NAACP President Ruban Roberts. They demanded action from the police department and indicated they planned to sue MPD over the incident. Yesterday Julien-Riou formally filed a false-arrest lawsuit against the department.
"Mr. Riou is a retired Vietnam veteran who had recently retired from his job as a registered nurse after 20 years,
subsequent to retiring from the Army after 20 years of service," the suit states. "He volunteers at the V.A. playing the piano for Veterans in palliative care. He’d never been arrested in his 63 years of life."
But then Officer Llanes needlessly threw Julien-Riou to the ground and arrested him for resisting an officer without violence. In February, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office dropped its charges against Julien-Riou after viewing the video.
"Defendant Llanes used unreasonable and excessive force against Plaintiff Mr. Riou when he forcibly pushed/threw him down to the concrete, manhandled him in such a way as to cause physical injury, searched him without consent, called other officers to the scene to physically apply unreasonable and excessive force in reliance on his call, forcibly put him in handcuffs when he was already under the physical control of the Defendant, detained him for over an hour, and created a criminal record for Mr. Riou by falsely charging him with resisting arrest," the suit says. (MPD does not comment on active litigation.)
This is not the first time MPD's cops have been accused of being needlessly violent with black men minding their own business in city parks. In 2015, an officer rolled up on a mentally ill, homeless man named Fritz Severe outside the Culmer/Overtown Branch Library and shot him dead in front of 50 children. Severe had been carrying nothing but a stick.
According to the lawsuit, Llanes sat in his squad car and shined a light directly on Julien-Riou for six full minutes, which the veteran says should have shown the cop that Julien-Riou wasn't a threat to anyone. But video shows Llanes, with a hostile attitude, still decided to approach Julien-Riou. The cop rolled up and told Julien-Riou to get out of the park — and the former nurse responded by simply saying, "Yes, sir."
As the suit notes, Miami-Dade County's own signage didn't clearly explain the time the park closed. Williams, Julien-Riou's lawyer, included a photo of the rules posted at Alonzo Kelly Park, which is located at NW 14th Avenue and 67th Street. It doesn't list a closing time.
The video shows that, at first, Julien-Riou calmly tells the cop he will leave the park.
"I'll close out," he tells the officer.
But Llanes then asks Julien-Riou if he's carrying anything illegal or dangerous in his hands. The officer then accuses Julien-Riou of dropping something. The video shows the cop tackling Julien-Riou as the former soldier loudly says he's done nothing wrong.
"I'm going! Seriously!" Julien-Riou says as the cop grabs him and throws him to the ground. Julien-Riou then asks, "Why are you doing this to me?"
"If I say, 'Have a seat,' have a seat!" the cop shouts. Julien-Riou then begins to beg the cop to let him go. Llanes at one point states on-camera that he does not believe he's hurting him.
Julien-Riou then says that he's holding only a camera and that he'll gladly show the cop his ID. But the cop continues insisting that Julien-Riou has thrown something away. Llanes eventually calls for backup. According to the suit, a K9 officer arrived, but the dog found no drugs. The cops kept Julien-Riou handcuffed for more than an hour, the suit says. The document adds that, after the officers arrested him, they claimed he was suspicious because he was sitting in a "well-known drug area." Julien-Riou's lawyer say that's a ludicrous reason to arrest a random man. The suit says this fact alone "does not give rise to probable cause" to arrest someone.
Julien-Riou filed a formal complaint against Llanes March 28. (In a statement on her website yesterday, Julien-Riou's lawyer, Williams, said she was furious that MPD hasn't suspended or fired Llanes since the video surfaced.)
"After giving 20 years of his life to serve our country, Mr. Riou was violated and deprived of his civil rights by those sworn to protect and serve," the suit states. "He was stripped of his humanity and dignity, overwhelmingly suffering by what was done to him. He feared for his life, stating, 'They descended on me like S.W.A.T.! I was thinking they could kill me, and my children would never know what happened to me.'"
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.