Hours after Miami Police Officer Mario Figueroa was charged with misdemeanor assault today after film surfaced of the cop trying to kick a handcuffed man in the head, the city's police union released a doozy of a statement defending Figueroa and insisting he hadn't broken the law or department policy.
According to the police union, Figueroa's attempted face-punting was, in fact, a "de-escalation technique" that proved Figueroa "showed great restraint." You read that right.
"While some have characterized this as police brutality, it couldn’t be farther from the truth," newly minted union president Edward Lugo, who once nearly lost his job after getting caught in a 2009 FBI sting, wrote in a multiparagraph letter this afternoon. "The only thing brutal about this entire incident is the suspect that endangered the lives of the community in which our Miami Police officers risked their lives to take this dangerous man off the streets. From the onset, the media stated that Officer Figueroa had kicked the suspect on the head."
The Miami Herald and multiple politicians warned earlier this week that Figueroa's defense would likely be that he missed David Suazo's face. In fact, even attempting to kick a suspect is both against policy and a crime. If the kick had landed, Figueroa could have been charged with battery instead of assault. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle reviewed arrest audio in which Figueroa taunted the suspected car thief after the cop missed walloping Suazo's head.
In a statement from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 20 so divorced from reality it can only be described as performance art, Lugo wrote that the assault was something Figueroa was trained to do to de-escalate the situation. According to the union, the viral clip is what good policing looks like.
"Miami Police officers are trained to use defensive tactics as well as de-escalate the amount of force necessary to get a suspect to comply," he said, ignoring the fact that Suazo had already complied and was handcuffed on the ground before Figueroa tried to launch the suspect's head like a soccer ball. "Officer Figueroa was involved in a high-speed car chase with a suspected robber that then turned into an all-out foot chase through a residential neighborhood. Officer Figueroa used great restraint and de-escalated his use of force once he approached the suspect."
Miami's two police unions — the FOP, which represents city cops, and the Dade County Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents county cops and some other departments — have a history of making offensive statements to defend their officers. When North Miami Police Officer Jonathan Aledda shot the unarmed Charles Kinsey, who was trying to help a man with autism, former PBA President John Rivera excused the shooting by claiming Aledda was aiming for the autistic man (who was also unarmed). Rivera also referred to Aledda as a "hero" despite the fact that he nearly killed a citizen who had done absolutely nothing wrong. (Aledda was later charged with multiple felonies.)
Lugo, meanwhile, was installed as FOP head in October as a thank-you for being a body man for Javier Ortiz, the longtime leader of Miami's police union who voluntarily demoted himself to vice president of the union when he was promoted to captain on the force. (Ortiz, a man famous for
Lugo's appointment went largely unreported in the rest of the local media, which is a shame considering he has a remarkably shady past as a cop. According to documents and audio recordings first published by local blogger Al Crespo, Miami PD's internal affairs unit made the extraordinary recommendation that Lugo be fired in 2009 after undercover FBI agents wearing recording devices pitched him on a plan to traffic stolen goods through Miami. Lugo allegedly looked the other way and didn't alert the department that cops were ostensibly trying to ship stolen goods on the side. He kept his job only after Ortiz used his power as then-FOP head to intervene on his pal's behalf. Lugo also has a long record of use-of-force complaints.
So read Lugo's baffling and hilarious statement within that context. Despite the fact that everything
"There is clearly a difference in opinion between the FOP and the Miami Police Department in regards to a violation of policy in this incident," Lugo wrote. "There is absolutely no violation of departmental policy. Our use of force guidelines
The union released Suazo's mug shot, which shows no obvious cuts or bruises on his face.
Lugo then added, "The Fraternal Order of Police has all the confidence in the criminal justice system as well as our due process rights that Officer Figueroa will be vindicated."
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.