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Miami Cop Suspended After Kicking Man in Head on Video

Earlier today, the City of Miami Police Department issued an ominous statement: Chief Jorge Colina said he'd received a video of an officer clearly violating departmental policy. That cop had been relieved of duty, he reported, adding the department had sent the clip to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.

Now the video has surfaced. It shows an Miami Police officer taking a running start and then kicking a defenseless, handcuffed suspect in the head. A police department spokesperson confirmed this was the video in question. Update: Body-camera footage and audio appears to show the kick missed the victim's face.

Just before 5 p.m., MPD named the officer as Mario Figueroa, an officer who's been on the force for two years. He is suspended with pay pending an internal investigation. MPD has so far declined to release any more information about his past Internal Affairs record or current salary and instructed New Times to file a records-request for more information.

The woman who posted the video, Lisa Harrell, wrote online that the officer was suspended after someone sent the clip to MPD. Harrell told New Times that the incident occurred around 9:40 a.m. today at the Culmer Place apartment complex near the intersection of NW Eighth Street and NW Seventh Avenue in Overtown, Miami's historically black neighborhood. The area's residents have complained for decades about overzealous and often brutal police tactics. The officers in the video are all either white or hispanic, while the victim is a black man.

"So city of miami getting to reckless," she wrote online. "He was down already. Didnt have to kick him!!! I will not let this go unnoticed. He was not resisting arrest he got on his knees and put his hands on his head. He WILLINGLY LAID DOWN. That fuckinf kick was uncalled for!!" [sic]

The victim — reportedly identified as 31-year-old David V. Suazo — of the officer's kick is clearly not resisting during the video clip. It shows cops placing handcuffs on his limp arms as he lies face-down in a field of grass. Then, out of nowhere, a Miami cop sprints and kicks the man squarely in the head.

MPD released a police report to the media late Thursday afternoon — police say they tried to apprehend Suazo after he was allegedly caught driving a blue Jeep Cherokee that had been stolen in Broward County. The cops say Suazo fled, crashed into a wall, and then fled on foot and tried to resist arrest before being tased, but the clip shows Suazo clearly complying with officers' demands. County records show that Suazo was booked into the Turner Guilford-Knight Correctional Center on charges of grand theft, fleeing a police officer, resisting an officer without violence, and driving with a suspended license, but the police account reportedly makes zero mention of the fact that officers kicked Suazo right in the head on camera.

Chief Colina said the video "depicts a clear violation of policy." The department waited roughly three hours after New Times requested the officers' name to release that information to the public.

Just after 4:20 p.m. today, Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle — a prosecutor not exactly known for her tough stance on police-misconduct cases — announced that her office's Public Corruption unit has opened an investigation into the beating.

"I have watched today’s Culmer Place video involving a uniformed City of Miami Police Officer and I was shocked and appalled by what I saw," Rundle said in a news release. "Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardiman, of my Public Corruption Unit, has been assigned to immediately open an investigation."

Use-of-force complaints have long been a persistent problem at Miami PD. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a damning report that the department had  "engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution." (The DOJ is technically still monitoring MPD's treatment of people of color, in particular.) Though shootings by cops seem to have dropped since the DOJ investigation ended, MPD has been repeatedly sued for alleged beatings, shootings, and other potential violations of the law.

Multiple videos published in 2018 have shown Miami officers choking suspects or grabbing them by the neck, for example. Just this week, the city's Civilian Investigative Panel, a group that probes complaints against the police (but lacks power to punish officers) ruled a group of Miami cops violated both departmental policy and Florida law by strip-searching a woman in the middle of a busy Wynwood street. MPD's internal affairs unit, however, cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

"This is outrageous," the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida tweeted after this story was initially published. "This type of excessive and unnecessary use of force by police, particularly against people of color, fits a pattern that needs to end."

This is a breaking story. This post will be updated.

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