(MIAMI) — Five Miami Beach police officers are now facing criminal charges after they were seen on body camera and security video kicking a handcuffed Black man in a hotel lobby and tackling and pummeling a Black witness who was recording the incident on his cellphone.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced the officers have been suspended and charged with first-degree misdemeanor battery.
“Excessive force can never, ever, ever be an acceptable foundation for policing in any community,” Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference on Monday. “Officers who forget that fact do a grave disservice to the people they have sworn to serve.”
Fernandez Rundle, with Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements standing behind her, played a four-minute compilation of body camera and security camera footage showing the episode that unfolded in the early hours of July 26 in the lobby of the Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach.
The state attorney went over the footage in detail, stopping and rewinding it several times to point out the individual officers who were charged and even running the video in slow motion to show two officers kicking the handcuffed detainee in the head.
“With my team, when we saw that kick to the head, and then we replayed it and saw all the kicks that preceded it — it was just unfathomable. It was unspeakable. It was just inexcusable,” Fernandez Rundle said.
She said the incident started when a police officer chased 24-year-old Dalonta Crudup into the hotel and stopped him at gunpoint as he tried to take an elevator.
A police report obtained by Miami ABC affiliate WPLG alleged that Crudup was involved in a confrontation with a Miami Beach bicycle police officer over illegally parking a motorized scooter and allegedly struck the officer with the scooter. Fernandez Rundle said the officer’s leg was injured in the encounter with Crudup and that he had to be hospitalized.
Once stopped by a police lieutenant inside the hotel, security camera footage showed Crudup appearing to comply with the officer’s orders to step out of an elevator with his hands up.
“Crudup exits the elevator with his hands raised and drops down to the ground with his arms outstretched in front of him,” Fernandez Rundle said.
After he was handcuffed with his arms behind his back, the security video showed 21 officers rushing into the lobby, swarming around Crudup and assisting in his arrest, Fernandez Rundle said.
“It is at this point the situation begins to change, in our opinion, from a legitimate arrest of a criminal suspect into an ongoing investigation of the use of force by five Miami Beach police officers,” Fernandez Rundle said.
The security video appeared to show Sgt. Jose Perez allegedly kick Crudup in the head while he was face down on the ground with other officers on top of him. At one point, Perez appears to also be seen in the video lifting Crudup and slamming him to the ground.
The video showed Perez walk away briefly twice before returning and appearing to kick Crudup in the head.
The hotel security video allegedly showed Officer Kevin Perez, who Fernandez Rundle said is not related to Jose Perez, kicking Crudup at least four times.
Other officers then turned their attention to 28-year-old Khalid Vaughn, who Fernandez Rundle said was standing 12 to 15 feet away recording Crudup’s arrest.
Body camera video appeared to show officers Robert Sabater allegedly tackling Vaughn, who was backing away. Officers David Rivas and Steven Serrano allegedly helped Sabater pin Vaughn against a concrete pillar. The body camera video appears to show Sabarter, Rivas and Serrano taking turns pummeling Vaughn with body blows.
“Body-worn cameras played a critical role in this case,” Fernandez Rundle said.
She said Vaughn was initially arrested on charges of impeding, provoking and harassing officers. Fernandez Rundle said those charges were dropped as soon after she viewed the videos.
She said the investigation is ongoing and the officers could face more charges.
Fernandez Rundle praised Clements for taking swift action and immediately informing her office of the incident.
“This is by no means at all a reflection of the dedicated men and women of the Miami Beach Police Department,” Clements said at Monday’s news conference. “Moving forward, I can tell you that my staff and I promise you, as individuals and as an agency, that we will learn from this. And we will grow from this.”
Upon his release from custody, Crudup told WPLG, “I got beat up, I got stitches, went to the hospital.” He denied parking the scooter illegally and striking the officer with it.
Vaughn told WPLG he started video recording the incident after Crudup was already handcuffed and on the ground.
“They beat him, turned around, charged me down, beat me … punched me, elbowed me in the face,” Vaughn told WPLG. “I literally got jumped by officers.”
Paul Ozeata, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Miami Herald that the five charged officers are being represented by the police union’s attorneys. He told the newspaper that he hadn’t viewed the video evidence close enough to comment on the officers’ actions.
“They deserve their day in court, just as everyone else does,” Ozeata said.
In an interview with ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he viewed the video footage and called the incident “unacceptable in every way.”
“This is not who our department is,” Gelber said, adding, “And what our department did was exactly the right thing they should do, which is relieved the officers of duty immediately, and then within hours refer the entire matter to the state attorney’s office for a review.”
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