On Thursday, June 5, three police officers in South Florida were officially charged with a series of assaults targeting immigrants. According to reports, Homestead Police Sgt. Jeffrey Rome has been accused of beating two men outside a bar. Rome has also been charged with unnecessarily using his pepper spray on other people. He currently is facing criminal charges of battery, false imprisonment, elderly abuse, as well as stopping a firefighter from performing his duties during a rescue.
Two other officers, Homestead Officer Giovanni Soto and Shift Commander Sgt. Lizanne Deegan, are facing criminal charges as well, with Soto being charged with battery and both being charged with attempting trying to conceal the incidents from becoming public knowledge. Warrants for the arrest for all three officers were signed on June 2 and arraignment has been scheduled for August 1.
While several incidents have been reported, one of the main incidents occurred on April 17, 2011 between Rome and a 24-year-old from Guatemala at a bar in Homestead named Celio's. The bar was being watched by authorities for allegedly being involved in human trafficking when the incident occurred.
Reports state that the victim was approached by Rome after leaving the bar; the victim walked away and then returned. Upon return, Rome took out the "strongest pepper spray…available for non-military use" and sprayed him continuously. The alleged victim tried to walk away, but was continued to be sprayed. Later, officers tried to assist the man, but he denied their help – even after begging for his life.
Use of excessive force by police is no laughing matter. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), almost 1.5% of all people who had contact with police in 2008 felt as though the force used had been excessive. The National Institute of Justice also reported that per 100 officers there was over 6 complaints for the use of force; however, over 90% of cases had insufficient evidence to take action.
Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) state that police officers are able to use force during their daily dealing, but only when appropriate. This, however, is extremely vague and left open to the opinion of the officer. How does one determine when force is too much? According to the BJS, force is allowed when the officer has reason to believe that the force was necessary. If the force was inappropriate or was not justified to carry out a necessary police function (for example, if the force was caused by a bias or unnecessary fear), it could be categorized as excessive force or police brutality.
This is a serious issue that police departments across the United States are dealing with. In fact, former Minneapolis Police Chief and Past President of the Police Executive Research Forum Robert K. Olsen was quoted as saying that the use of force by police is "the single most volatile issue facing police departments." Police brutality can not only lead to serious lawsuits, but it can also lead to instability between the law enforcement officers and the surrounding community, creating friction, distrust and strained relationships.
If you were victimized by police brutality during the arrest process or if you are an officer who has been wrongfully accused, you need an aggressive lawyer on your side to fight for your legal rights. At Hager & Schwartz, we have the experience necessary to defend your rights against the possibility of conviction. If you would like to learn more about how we can step up to fight for you, contact us today by calling toll-free at 800-827-5193.