FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – An officer may be facing criminal charges after he was videotaped pushing and slapping a homeless man at a bus terminal.
The smack–seen and heard on cell phone video spread across the web-has prompted an internal investigation into the behavior of Officer Victor Ramirez of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said the officer’s conduct was out of line.
“It’s unacceptable,” Seiler said. “I was very disturbed by the video. I was very frustrated by the timing of it because we have been dealing with these issues and I thought we’d kind of put all of this behind us.”
Seiler has been at the forefront of the city’s push to create laws that deal with how the homeless are fed in the city. That led to activists being cited and cuffed for serving meals to the homeless. Seiler said the city is in the process of tweaking some of its’ homeless assistance ordinances and that the video is not representative of the thousands of interactions the city’s officers have with the homeless year after year.
“The majority of our officers handle these interactions in a professional way, a very competent way,” Seiler said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Police Chief Frank Adderley said that the issue is a, “serious matter, one we need to immediately respond to.”
“Officer Victor Ramirez has been a member of our police department for the past nine years,” Chief Adderley said. He said the officer has been placed on paid administrative leave.
City manager Lee Feldman described the video as “disturbing” and said “it’s not representative of the type of actions that anybody wants our police department to be perceived as.”
The video, captured by a witness at a downtown Ft. Lauderdale bus depot over the weekend shows what appears to be a cop striking a homeless man.
The man was identified by police as 58-year-old Bruce Laclair.
CBS4’s Ted Scouten spoke to Laclair Tuesday. “I was sitting there on a bench and a police officer came up and started rousing me and said he was going to arrest me for trespassing,” Laclair said. In the police report the officer said Laclair was sleeping on a bus bench against police. “I had to go to the bathroom,” Laclair said, “and he wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom, so the argument stemmed from simply going to the bathroom, that’s all i wanted to do.” He ended up going to the bathroom in his pants.
He also noted that he’s never had a physical or violent confrontation with an officer before.
“Most of the police force here and the Broward Sheriff’s are just awesome. They’re great people, they’re doing the right thing, and they are very generous too–especially to homeless people. And this gentleman was clearly out of line,” Laclair said Tuesday.
In the video, Laclair, wearing a light gray hoodie, is seen walking in front of the officer.
You then see Officer Ramirez put his hand on Laclair. When Laclair tries to pull away, the officer appears to shove him on the ground. Laclair then shouts an obscenity and tells the officer he needs to use the restroom.
“You’re not going to pee. You’re not supposed to be here, OK? So get up,” Officer Ramirez is heard saying in the video.
Another exchange of words ensues, and that’s when the officer is seen slapping the man.
Laclair is then handcuffed, taken to jail, and charged with trespassing.
According to the arrest report, written by Officer Ramirez, he was working an off-duty security detail Sunday at the bus station when he spotted Laclair sleeping on a bench-which is against terminal rules.
The officer reports he told Laclair to wake up and leave, and Laclair said, “(expletive) you leave me alone.”
After several failed attempts to get Laclair out, the officer said he grabbed the man and arrested him.
Homeless advocates say the city is pressuring police to enforce what they call anti-homeless laws and that it’s leading to violence.
“It’s disturbing to know that the city founders and city leaders have put this much pressure on a police officer to act this way,” said Sean Cannonie of the Homeless Voice.
The City manager said Tuesday there are “misperceptions about how we treat the homeless clearly there is only one side of the story that has been told.”
Police said they are looking into possible criminal charges against the officer.
Police say during officer Ramirez’s 9-year tenure with the department he has only received two conduct complaint which turned out to be unfounded.