Five Miami Beach cops charged after pummeling two men in hotel lobby. Video released

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Five Miami Beach police officers were hit with criminal charges on Monday for using excessive force on a man in handcuffs and for pummeling a bystander who was videotaping the incident on his cellphone.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, with Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements at her side, announced the charges after showing a four-minute video clip in which 21 officers descend on a man they chased into a South Beach hotel, who is alleged to have hit an officer with his motor scooter.

In the video, one officer repeatedly kicks the handcuffed man in the head, before another officer picks him up and slams his head to the ground. A short while later a group of officers redirect their attention to a man videotaping the incident. He’s soon slammed into a concrete pillar, then repeatedly punched and elbowed in the head and rib cage while on the ground.

Charges against Khalid Vaughn, 28, of New York, who was arrested for using his cellphone camera, were dropped by Rundle’s office the same day as the arrest and almost as soon as Clements informed her of the videotape. Vaughn had been facing charges of impeding a police investigation and resisting arrest with violence.

“Excessive force can never, ever be an acceptable solution,” Fernandez Rundle said.

Said Clements: “We will learn from this and we will move on.”

Arrested Monday and charged with single counts of misdemeanor battery were Miami Beach Police Sgt. Jose Perez and officers Kevin Perez, Robert Sabater, Steven Serrano and David Rivas. The five turned themselves in at Miami Beach police headquarters earlier in the day, Clements said.

Fraternal Order of Police President Paul Ozeata said he hadn’t studied the video enough to comment on the actions of the officers who were arrested. He said all five turned themselves in at Miami Beach police headquarters Monday morning, where they were fingerprinted. And he said all were represented by FOP attorneys.

“They deserve their day in court, just as everyone else does,” said Ozeata.

Fernandez Rundle said charges against the officers from the July 26 incident at the Royal Palm Hotel could be upgraded. She wouldn’t speculate on whether any other officers would be charged, though the state attorney said the investigation into the incident was far from over.

The speed at which the officers were charged was unusual. And though arrests for alleged police misconduct by Fernandez Rundle’s office are fairly common, the state attorney has been criticized for not arresting an officer for a fatal shooting in almost three decades. The arrest of the officers also comes less than a year since massive protests broke out around the country over police brutality after the death of George Floyd.

The four-minute videotape shown by the state attorney was a compilation of extremely clear surveillance video from the lobby near a stack of elevators at the Royal Palm at 1545 Collins Ave., and police body-worn cameras. It was edited by the state attorney’s office.

The arrest of Vaughn and Dalonta Crudup, 24, was precipitated by a Beach officer approaching Crudup about his illegally parked motor scooter at 13th Street and Ocean Court. Police say Crudup took off and in the process hit one officer with his scooter and almost hit a second. The officer who was struck was hospitalized and is on crutches.

Crudup eventually ditched the bike and made his way into the Royal Palm lobby. Surveillance video picks him up there, racing into the middle elevator of three. But before the doors close, a Miami Beach police officer confronts him with his weapon drawn. Crudup gets out of the elevator as commanded and gets on the ground, his hands in the air, before he is handcuffed.

By then, 20 other cops had raced toward the front of the elevator, many surrounding Crudup on the ground. That’s when, Fernandez Rundle said, “the situation begins to change from criminal arrest to investigation of use-of-force.”

One officer is seen repeatedly kicking Crudup in the head. Another lifts him as he is cuffed and slams his head to the ground. Fernandez Rundle identified those officers as Kevin Perez and Jose Perez.

In the background, Vaughn can be seen in spotted shorts and dark T-shirt, videotaping the melee. Then the video changes to body-worn camera footage and Vaughn can be seen smiling as he is rushed by Sabater, who slams him into a column, then bear hugs Vaughn. Several officers join in and are seen punching and striking Vaughn in the head and in the rib cage as he is taken to the ground and handcuffed.

“We felt what he [Vaughn] was doing, was within his rights,” Fernandez Rundle said.

Attempts to reach Vaughn were unsuccessful. Crudup was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, fleeing and eluding police, aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. His charges stand.

Clements said he contacted Fernandez Rundle’s office and Internal Affairs to begin an investigation almost as soon as he saw the video and suspended the officers. Fernandez Rundle said the chief was informed about the incident by someone on his command staff.

“This is why duty to intervene in training is necessary,” said the state attorney. “They did a grave disservice to the people they have sworn to serve.”

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