Protester gets apology for rubber bullet fired by Fort Lauderdale cop

Susannah Bryan, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

LaToya Ratlieff, shot in the face with a rubber bullet fired by a Fort Lauderdale police officer, has waited months for an apology from the city.

It finally came Wednesday — 36 weeks and three days after the bullet fractured Ratlieff’s right eye socket during a social justice protest May 31.

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen delivered a heartfelt apology during a meeting with Ratlieff on his front porch, said Evan Ross, her spokesman.

“I apologized to her for what happened,” Sorensen said. “She was gracious and appreciative of the apology. I also said how sorry I was. I’m sure this has impacted her life physically and emotionally, from work to family to friends.”

Sorensen said he felt compelled to extend an apology because the incident happened in his district.

“I am responsible for what happens in that district,” he said. “It’s important to apologize when mistakes are made and people are hurt.”

Ross, Ratlieff attorney Michael Davis and City Attorney Alain Boileau were also present.

Ratlieff, 35, a grant writer from Delray Beach, has not ruled out filing a lawsuit against the city, Ross said.

“No decision has been made on that,” he said. “Her goal remains to continue working with the city on reforms. All of her options are still on the table. But filing a lawsuit is not her priority at this point. Her priority is reform. It’s always been reform.”

In August, Ratlieff met with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and City Manager Chris Lagerbloom to discuss a list of reforms she’d like to see at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

Ratlieff made these key proposals:

Increased accountability via an independent watchdog panel and changes in the arbitration process.

Yearly training for every member of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, including de-escalation, implicit bias and mental health identification training. Every three years, officers would retrain on the use of non-lethal tools, including pepper spray, tear gas, tasers, batons, and handcuffs.

Increased mental health counseling for officers, including a mental health evaluation at least once a year and regular counseling for those who request it.

A new system that encourages de-escalation, even when use of force would have been justified. Officers who do so regularly could be up for promotions over officers who fail to de-escalate situations or who use force excessively when it isn’t justified. And all officers would be subject to regular reviews of any uses of force.

After making his apology, Sorensen said he also updated Ratlieff on the reforms underway at the department.

“We’ve been working on police reform for months now,” Sorensen said. “She had suggested multiple reforms to the city, and I wanted to reassure her that I received her request. I gave her a full update on all the changes we’ve been making in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.”

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Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan