MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Miami Beach leaders and law enforcement officials addressed an incident captured on video that showed a police officer body-slamming a man before taking him into custody, as large spring break crowds continue to raise safety and health concerns.
Miami Beach Police Officer Ernesto Rodriguez on Saturday described what led to the officer body-slamming 19-year-old James Harrison, Friday night.
“That man was inside of that crowd inciting the rest of the crowd,” he said.
Investigators said a crowd of at least 200 people near Eighth Street and Ocean Drive became disorderly. When police tried to break it up, they said, the revelers began surrounding the officers, which forced them to deploy pepper spray.
A stampede ensued, and at some point during the mass mayhem, police said, Harrison became aggressive toward them and even tried to incite a riot.
When officers tried to take him into custody, detectives said, Harrison resisted by grabbing an officer’s police vest.
Cellphone video showed what happened next. The officer is seen lifting Harrison and throwing him onto a sidewalk.
“The objective of getting that violent man into custody was achieved,” said Rodriguez.
Speaking with 7News on Saturday, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said they have zero tolerance for that kind of behavior, adding that the heavy patrolling in parts of South Beach aims to ensure residents and visitors stay safe.
“We don’t want the altercations, we don’t want the arrests, but if we have to, we will, because we have to have some measure of control over our environment,” he said.
Regarding Friday night’s incident, the mayor pointed out the unruly behavior that led to the body slam.
“Listen, people were throwing rocks and bottles at police officers. That’s just outrageous. They’re jumping on police cars,” he said.
Several people were detained, and two officers went to the hospital.
“I call our cops every time there’s an injury. I talked to two of them today who were injured last night,” said Gelber. “Our police are putting themselves in harm’s way right now.”
The injured officers are expected to be OK.
Friday’s tough takedown was just one of many wild moments on the beach.
Cellphone video showed girls dancing on police cruisers.
But crime and chaos are not the only thing Miami Beach is battling. Spring breakers are flocking to South Florida in the midst of a pending pandemic and new COVID-19 variants in the state.
“When I came out here, I made sure to put my face mask on, keep my distance and have a good time, ’cause that’s what it’s about,” said Miami Beach resident Tim Vega.
“I am staying safe by masking up and definitely kind of keeping my distance, washing my hands, sanitizing them every chance I get,” said Miami Beach resident Ivonne Ponte. “I have some sanitizer in my backpack.”
“I was a bit hesitant about coming down here. I didn’t know what the protocols were going to be and what people were going to be following, but the ticket price was so cheap, I couldn’t refuse,” said tourist Tanisha Watkins.
Despite a rise in vaccinations and a decrease in COVID cases, experts warned there is still a looming threat.
“The New York variant, the Brazil variant, the South African variant,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida is the state with the highest number of variants.
Experts are concerned that spring break festivities will only add to the problem with not many people wearing masks.
“People who were previously infected may not have a strong enough protection from these new variants,” said Marty.
Miami Beach Police have made 119 arrests between Monday and Saturday; 42 of them were felonies. They have seized 13 guns.
A curfew remains in place for Miami-Dade County during spring break. It runs from midnight to 6 a.m.
Anyone with questions and concerns about the coronavirus can call the Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline at 1-866-779-6121.
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