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The misdemeanor charges filed against five police officers caught on camera beating two Black men inside a South Beach hotel are “weak as church water-wine,” a group of activists said Wednesday.
More than a dozen people, led by the Circle of Brotherhood, gathered outside Miami Beach Police headquarters to praise and critique the charges Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle brought this week in the July 26 incident. Although encouraged by the swiftness with which the charges were filed, they also questioned why she didn’t pursue stiffer penalties after watching footage of officers kicking a handcuffed man in the face and pounding his head into the ground.
“If any one of us would have taken a boot to an incapacitated, handcuffed police officer, I think we would be charged with more than a misdemeanor,” said Lyle Muhammad, executive director of the Circle of Brotherhood.
Video footage released Monday shows 21 officers pouncing on Dalonta Crudup, 24, who is accused of hitting an officer with a motor scooter and leading police on a chase into the Royal Palm Hotel. One officer can be seen slamming Crudup’s head against the ground and repeatedly kicking him. The officers later turned their attention to 28-year-old Khalid Vaughn, whom they tackled, punched and elbowed. Both Crudup and Vaughn were subsequently arrested. The charges against Vaughn, who was recording Crudup’s drubbing when police attacked him, too, have since been dropped.
“You cannot be judge, jury and executioner all at one time,” said William “D.C.” Clark, a candidate for Miami-Dade County District 2 commissioner.
Miami Beach Police Sgt. Jose Perez and officers Kevin Perez, Robert Sabater, Steven Serrano and David Rivas were each charged with a single count of misdemeanor battery. During a Monday press conference, Fernandez Rundle did not rule out the possibility of upgrading the charges, and said the investigation into the incident wasn’t over.
Not only should the officers involved in the fracas face felony charges, but the 16 others who stood idly by need to be reprimanded as well, said Tangela Sears, the leader of Florida Parents of Murdered Children.
“They need to be terminated immediately,” Sears said. “And the state attorney needs to charge them with a felony.”
Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements, with whom the coalition said they planned to meet, told reporters Monday he was moving to terminate the five officers, but questions about their firing went unreturned on Wednesday. Ed Griffith, a spokesperson for Fernandez Rundle, said that the misdemeanor battery charge was the only one that prosecutors believed would stick.
“We felt [with] those five individuals we could prove these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt,” Griffith told the Miami Herald.
Muhammad then turned inward to explain the agony that he, a Black man, experiences when watching videos of police abuse.
“We experience trauma because the same thing that happened to those two brothers could’ve happened to any one of us up here,” Muhammad said.
Miami Beach police have long faced accusations of police brutality. Two officers harassed then beat a handcuffed Harold Strickland, a gay man, in 2009. Police killed Raymond Herisse, 22, in 2011 after firing more than 100 bullets in a chase and shooting that left several bystanders wounded. Graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, 18, died after being chased and tasered by police in 2013.
“We keep on calling these isolated incidents, but they keep on occurring amongst the culture of abuse and racism,” Muhammad said. “There is so much training growth and development needed down here in Miami Beach.”