MIAMI – The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently denied a motion by Miami police officers to dismiss a Miami man's suit claiming among other things the officers used excessive force and violated Florida’s state battery law after the man was arrested and kicked and punched by officers during a street celebration following a Miami Heat game win in 2012.
U.S. District Judge Darrin P. Gayles wrote the June 1 order for the court in the suit against the city of Miami and several police officers, including Officers Ruben Rojas, Magdiel Perez and Josue Herrera, granting the three officers' motion to dismiss the suit's claims of constitutional false arrest and Florida false arrest.
As to the motion to dismiss the excessive force claim in the suit, “The court finds that no objectively reasonable officer in the position of the defendant officers could have thought that throwing plaintiff to the ground, piling on top of him and hitting him such that he suffered a fractured orbital bone was a constitutionally permissible use of force,” the court order said.
Francois Alexandre claims that he suffered a fractured orbital bone, lacerations and contusions in his suit against the city of Miami and several officers, including Rojas, Perez, Herrera an Christopher Vital, following his arrest. Alexandre filed claims of false arrest and excessive force, violation of the right to peaceably assemble, false arrest under Florida law and battery under Florida law.
Alexandre’s complaint states he was celebrating in the streets of Miami outside his apartment after the Miami Heat championship win in 2012. Alexandre recorded the event on his cellphone, and a security camera also has footage. Alexandre can be heard shouting at the officers using expletives when the officers told the crowd to disperse, but the videos show Alexandre and the other people complying with orders. Alexandre’s video and the security camera show that the officers grabbed Alexandre by the neck, pushed him into an alcove and converged on top of him. The court order notes that the videos don’t show what happened next to Alexandre.
Alexandre claims his arms were pinned under his body and that he was punched and kicked repeatedly. The defendants admitted that Vital punched Alexandre and Herrera struck him with an open hand but contend that Alexandre kept his arms underneath him to resist arrest. Police can be heard mocking him as Alexandre was handcuffed and led to a patrol car.
The ruling by Judge Gayles said, “The court is compelled to find arguable probable cause for the arrest” and granted the officers qualified immunity from the false arrest claim. The court stated that although they found the officers’ probable cause “questionable … a reasonable officer certainly could have believed, upon hearing plaintiff shout … that plaintiff was encouraging the crowd to act in a violent and turbulent manner.”
Gayles denied the motion to dismiss claims against the battery claim, noting the court could not determine at this stage whether the officers are protected by Florida statute, “especially in light of the severity of plaintiff’s injuries under the circumstances and the subsequent mocking of those injuries by one or more officers.”
Gayle points out that the officers at no time warned Alexandre or told him he was under arrest. The order pointed out “the individual defendants’ self-serving statements” that Alexandre was resisting arrest conflict with audio from the video where Alexandre says he is not resisting arrest. “The court finds that the Individual defendants’ “gratuitous use of force” was disproportionate and objectively unreasonable … the individual defendants violated plaintiff’s constitutional right to be free of excessive force.”
The case will proceed to trial for Alexandre’s claims of excessive force and battery.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Case Number 16-23064-CIV-GAYLES/OTAZO-REYES