MIAMI (WSVN) - A City of Miami Police officer who was accused of trying to kick a suspect in the head will now face assault charges.
Officer Mario Figueroa has been charged after video appeared to show him kicking car theft suspect David Suazo in the head during his arrest.
In the video, Suazo could be seen lying on the ground while an officer put handcuffs on him. That’s when Figueroa could be seen running up and appearing to kick Suazo in the head.
According to Miami Police, this all started when officers tried to stop a stolen vehicle. They said the driver, 31-year-old Suazo, ran from police and crashed the vehicle in the area of Northwest Eighth Street and Seventh Avenue.
Neighbors in the area are still shocked.
“Shocked. Everybody’s surprised because they’re stationed over here to protect the neighborhood,” said neighbor Lebonah Israel.
Suazo is now facing charges for third-degree grand theft and for alluding police.
In a body camera video that was taken while Suazo was in the hospital waiting to be checked out for chest pains, he could be heard berating Figueroa for unsuccessfully trying to kick him in the head.
“Missed on the kick. Learn how to aim my boy,” Suazo said.
To which Figueroa replied, “If I wanted to kick you, you know, I would have kicked you, right?”
“If you wanted to, you would’ve got your [expletive] shot,” Suazo is heard saying.
“Exactly, but I didn’t kick you. I didn’t want to kick you. I need to hear you comply,” Figueroa responds. “I needed you to comply, so me pretending to kick you got you to comply, right?”
Figueroa’s attorney, Gene Gibbons, said the officer did not intend to harm Suazo.
“So, he diverted the kick at the last second to avoid striking him on purpose. He didn’t want to do harm to the subject,” said Gibbons. “It’s unfortunate the state has decided to charge Officer Figueroa with a non-existent crime that didn’t occur. All he did was go out there and do his job.”
Police said Figueroa was relieved of duty the same day the video surfaced, and the department has begun the termination process.
“The Miami Police Department would like to assure the community that it will not tolerate any transgressions against the badge its officers are meant to wear with honor, and remains committed to maintaining the highest possible standards of ethics, transparency and accountability,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina in a statement.
Figueroa is being charged with one count of assault, a second-degree misdemeanor. If the kick had landed, officials said Figueroa would have been charged with battery.
“Officer Mario Figueroa can have no excuse for the alleged actions seen on the initial videotape,” said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “This community demands respect for all individuals taken into custody. Any evidence of abuse, which is also evidence of a crime, will assist us in going forward with this case.”
“In the case of the chief’s decision to suspend the officer immediately and the state attorney’s decision to charge the officer, I think those both were appropriate, given the clear evidence that was shown by the video,” added City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
Figueroa’s police union have come to his defense, with President Edward Lugo of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police saying, “While some have characterized this as police brutality, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The only thing brutal about this entire incident is the suspect that endangered the lives of the community in which our Miami Police officers risked their lives to take this dangerous man off the streets.”
Meanwhile, the woman who shot the video of Suazo’s arrest said she thinks Figueroa is getting what he deserves, and she’s glad the department and the state attorney acted quickly.
When asked what she would say to the officer, she said, “You should have went for football.”
An arraignment date has not yet been set.
Figueroa’s attorney said he’s confident his client will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
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