Fort Lauderdale police are supposed to be investigating whether one of their own improperly used potentially lethal force when he shot LaToya Ratlieff in the face with a rubber bullet at a Black Lives Matter protest on May 31.
But in an interview with Ratlieff and her lawyer on Tuesday, police internal affairs investigators seemed more interested in whether Ratlieff had done anything wrong at the protest, her spokesman Evan Ross said in a news release.
Ross called the questioning “accusatory and ridiculous.”
“LaToya was not interviewed; she was interrogated by FLPD,” the news release said. “Worst of all, she was essentially asked to justify her participation in a peaceful First Amendment protected demonstration.”
Among the questions investigators asked:
▪ What was written on the sign Ratlieff was holding shortly before she was shot? (Body camera footage provided by the police over the summer shows the sign read: “Stop killing us. Black lives matter.”)
▪ Did she throw anything? (Body camera footage, as well as videos from protesters, show that she did not.)
▪ Did she have any association with any protesters who threw objects at officers? (She did not know any of them, according to Ross.)
▪ Did any protesters who threw objects at officers take her to the hospital? (Publicly available videos published by the Herald appear to show they did not.)
▪ Why didn’t she go to officers for medical aid after the rubber bullet fractured her eye socket and left her gushing blood? (Video shows she could barely walk and other protesters helped her from the scene, away from the line of police still pointing weapons at them.)
The interview took place Tuesday afternoon and lasted just under an hour, according to the release.
“Though we remain hopeful that the FLPD investigation will acknowledge the failures of the department to follow its own protocols, the clear civil rights violations that occurred, and impose accountability on those responsible, we have seen nothing to make us optimistic that justice will come internally,” the news release said.
Police shot Ratlieff with the rubber bullet eight months ago. The last time she sat down with internal affairs in August, the lead investigator told her the officer who shot her, Eliezer Ramos, was a “good guy” who wouldn’t have shot her on purpose. Ratlieff left without answering questions. The investigator was removed from the case. Ramos said in his incident report that he was aiming for a protester who threw back a tear gas canister at police and that he shot Ratlieff by mistake. A Fort Lauderdale PD training manual says that shooting someone in the head with a rubber bullet is a use of potentially lethal force.
“The Fort Lauderdale Police Department is committed to completing a fair and impartial Investigation,” said Interim Assistant Chief Frank Sousa in a statement to the Herald. “We thank Ms. Ratlieff for providing her statement. Upon completion of the investigation we will release all statements and pertinent evidence.”
While police blamed protesters for starting the violence on May 31, a Herald investigation determined that the protest had been peaceful all day until a police officer shoved a kneeling young woman outside a downtown parking garage as hundreds of people returned to their cars. A group of protesters hurled water bottles at the officer in response. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Ratlieff wandered into the scene after that. She said she noticed people were agitated and that she tried to calm the situation down, urging protesters to kneel so police would know they were peaceful. But police opened fire with a second round of tear gas and rubber bullets. Ratlieff was hit in the face as she stumbled away choking on a cloud of tear gas.
In addition to her broken eye socket, she received 20 stitches and faces the potential of long-term vision problems and brain damage. Her lawyers have indicated they might pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit. But Ratlieff has said she wants to sit down with the city and discuss reforms. One meeting has taken place so far. The city has hired the National Police Foundation to review its practices. No details have been released yet.
Then-Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione criticized Ratlieff over the summer for speaking to the media instead of police investigators. Maglione also defended other officers who the Herald revealed laughed and joked as they shot rubber bullets at protesters. The chief was removed from his position and demoted in July. He remains with the department.
“We changed our police chief because we felt his philosophy was not consistent with the goals of our community,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told the Herald in December.