Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, a prosecutor with a knack for upsetting criminal justice–reform advocates and civil rights lawyers, has lately taken a different tack on cops caught abusing suspects. Rundle has still never charged a cop for a fatal on-duty shooting in her 24 years in office, but last year she did charge Jonathan Aledda, a North Miami Police officer who shot unarmed behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey in the leg, with manslaughter.
Yesterday Rundle charged Miami Police Officer Mario Figueroa with assault after he was filmed last week taking a running start and attempting to kick a defenseless, handcuffed suspect in the head. Advocates applauded the charges, but they raise an obvious question: If this case was worthy of charges, why did Rundle's office ignore multiple other cases in recent years in which officers have been caught on video committing nearly identical acts of brutality?
Two recent cases in particular warrant special attention: the videotaped assault by Miami Beach Police Det. Philippe Archer and the recorded attack by ex-Miami PD Officer Jonathan Hinson.
Philippe Archer. Miami Beach Police Det. Philippe Archer was suspended in 2015 after getting caught on tape beating the living daylights out of handcuffed civilians two years earlier. In this case, Archer is actually accused of hitting two people: Megan Adamescu, a 115-pound woman half the cop's size; and Andrew Mossberg, a good Samaritan who intervened because Archer, who was undercover and in plainclothes, was allegedly being so rough with Adamescu that Mossberg assumed she was being mugged. Mossberg says Archer kicked him in the head and threw him against the side of a car. (Miami Beach later paid Mossberg a $100,000 settlement.)
Police found surveillance video of Archer punching a handcuffed Adamescu in the face. The assault occurred at a police station in front of other cops, no less:
Subsequent New Times stories showed that Archer had, in fact, been sued multiple times for misconduct. Ray Tasseff, Mossberg's lawyer in his suit against the city, said Archer's personnel files show the cop had an astounding 55 complaints in his file, including 30 allegations of excessive force. (Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police head Bobby Jenkins has instead said that Archer has done "exceptional work" as a cop and that Tasseff is exaggerating Archer's internal affairs record.) Though Archer was suspended for 160 hours (20 eight-hour workdays) for the assault, Rundle's office declined to file criminal charges against him.
John Hinson. MPD Officer John Hinson was filmed that same year jumping on a handcuffed Liberty City man restrained in the back of a patrol car. Hinson was suspended almost immediately — multiple reporters, including WLRN's Nadege Green, later reported he had been repeatedly accused of beating up handcuffed suspects.
Hinson was accused of attacking two Liberty City men in 2010 — but MPD's internal affairs unit closed both cases as "inconclusive." Despite the fact that Hinson seems to have a pattern of smacking detainees, he has also avoided charges so far.
“This ain’t the first time they done jumped on these kids out here when they arrest them,” a Liberty City resident named Dorothy told WLRN. “This is the first time someone was there with a camera to show it.”
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So why has Rundle elected to charge Figueroa when police in very similar cases have avoided criminal charges?
After 25 years in office, Rundle might be listening to complaints from justice-reform advocates, whose frequent criticism may finally be hurting her chances for reelection — or even her rumored interest in running for higher office, including attorney general or governor.
In Figueroa's case, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina painted Rundle into a corner by issuing a statement declaring the actions in the clip a "clear violation of policy" — leaving the top prosecutor less wiggle room in deciding whether to charge Figueroa.
Miami's police union has vowed to defend Figueroa and fight Colina's move to fire him.