At one of the first Miami protests following the death of George Floyd back in May, a bystander was filming as the Miami-Dade Police Department's Special Response Team surveilled the scene on Biscayne Boulevard from a black SUV.
The video, taken May 31, shows two protesters mouthing off at the cops. One taunted, "What, you're gonna shoot me like you did everybody else, bro?"
The comment visibly set off Officer Roberto De la Nuez, who was sitting in the backseat of the SUV. The footage shows De la Nuez get out of the vehicle and forcefully grab the protester, later identified as 23-year-old Ariel Alfaro-Fonseca. When Alfaro-Fonseca pushes back, a team of officers wearing helmets and tactical gear jump in and shove him to the ground. One officer then places Alfaro-Fonseca in a chokehold.
VIDEO: @MiamiDadePD officers attack peaceful protestor in front of the Freedom Tower yesterday, arrest him for violating the 8pm curfew at 5:45pm #BecauseMiami @MayorGimenez @MDPD_Director pic.twitter.com/ImuCsvGPMH— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) June 1, 2020
Although Alfaro-Fonseca was arrested and charged with violating an emergency curfew, his handwritten arrest report does not mention that any force was used while taking him into custody. Now, a follow-up report obtained by New Times from the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) appears not to jibe with the video of Alfaro-Fonseca's arrest.
The Supervisor's Report of Response to Resistance outlines, from the officers' perspective, why Alfaro-Fonseca had to be detained with force. The report states that a sequence of dispersal orders — verbal commands to leave the area — had been issued over a loudspeaker during the May 31 protest at 5:45 p.m., 5:55 p.m., and 6 p.m. According to the officers, Alfaro-Fonseca and others in his group continued "loitering."
The report states:
Officer De la Nuez approached Mr. Alfaro-Fonseca, and advised him that he was under arrest. At this time, Officer De la Nuez grabbed Mr. Alfaro-Fonseca with both hands in an attempt to take him into custody; however, Mr. Alfaro-Fonseca extended his arms and began pushing himself away from Officer De la Nuez. Officer De la Nuez then attempted to leg sweep Mr. Alfaro-Fonseca, who continued to resist his arrest. At the same time, Officer Jorge Espinosa... using his right arm, encircled Mr. Alfaro-Fonseca's upper torso and head, subsequently redirecting him to the ground.
The video shows much of that sequence of events, but it does not show the officer saying anything to Alfaro-Fonseca before grabbing him, let alone informing him that he was under arrest.
Reached by New Times, MDPD spokesperson Sgt. Erin Alfonso declined to answer questions about the discrepancy or say whether De la Nuez had been disciplined.
"There is an active investigation being conducted by the Miami-Dade Police Department's Professional Compliance Bureau, and we cannot provide any further details regarding this case," Alfonso wrote in an email.
Alfaro-Fonseca responded to texts from New Times but ultimately could not be reached for comment. Court records show the state declined to prosecute him and closed the case on June 10.
Records obtained by New Times might explain why his comment — "What, you're gonna shoot me like you did everybody else, bro?" — might have triggered De la Nuez. According to a close-out memo from State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office, the officer was involved in a shooting on August 28, 2009, near Miami Lakes that killed Adrian Herrera, a 30-year-old with mental illness.
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Miami-Dade police responded to Herrera's home that night after family members reported that he had shot and killed his mother. The report says Herrera barricaded himself in his bedroom and refused to come out despite police firing tear-gas canisters inside the home, breaching the front door with explosives, and using a robot to surveil the inside of the house. At one point during the standoff, Herrera fired two shots outside toward the officers, according to the memo.
When officers found Herrera in the bedroom, he raised his gun toward them, according to the State Attorney's Office report. De la Nuez and two other officers, German Alech and Alain Cruz, fired at least 17 shots at Herrera, killing him.
Prosecutors in Rundle's office who reviewed the case found that the officers were justified in the shooting, and no criminal charges were filed.