FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A Ft. Lauderdale police officer who was caught on a cell phone video slapping a homeless man has been charged.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office has charged Officer Victor Ramirez, 34, two misdemeanor counts of battery and one count of falsifying records.
“The officer will now be relieved from duty without pay until those charges are resolved. He will not be working for the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department,” said Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.
“We’re just obviously very happy that now based upon everything that happened that the state realizes that Bruce is the victim and not a person who should have been charged,” said LaClair’s attorney Steve Rossi. “When you saw what happened on the video and the slap that took place, it’s just really not acceptable type behavior.”
The smack, seen and heard on the cell phone video, spread across the web and prompted an internal investigation into Ramirez’s behavior.
Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness said the officer’s suspension without pay shows that officer’s accused of behaving badly will not go unpunished.
“The public is now being told an officer cannot just do what he wants and we’ll continue to protect him,” said Holness.
The video, captured by a witness at a downtown Ft. Lauderdale bus depot, shows what appears to be Ramirez striking 58-year old Bruce Laclair.
“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 told CBS4’s Ted Scouten shortly after the incident.
In the police report, Ramirez said Laclair was sleeping on a bus bench.
“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.”
In the video, Laclair, is seen walking in front of the officer.
You then see Ramirez put his hand on Laclair. When Laclair tries to pull away, Ramirez 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,” Ramirez is heard saying in the video.
Another exchange of words ensues, and that’s when the officer is seen slapping Laclair.
Laclair was then handcuffed, taken to jail, and charged with trespassing.
According to the arrest report, written by Ramirez, he was working an off-duty security detail at the bus station when he spotted Laclair sleeping on a bench-which is against terminal rules.
The officer wrote that he told Laclair to wake up and leave, and Laclair said, “(expletive) you leave me alone.”
After several failed attempts to get Laclair out, Ramirez said he grabbed the man and arrested him.
Ramirez wrote that he struck Laclair, 58, after he fell to “distract [him] and keep him from grabbing me,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.
After the video of the slap surfaced on YouTube, Ramirez was placed on administrative leave with pay. After charges were levied, Ramirez was relieved of duty without pay. An officer with the department for nine years, Ramirez has no disciplinary history.
The slap video is one of two recent embarrassments involving Ft. Lauderdale police officers. The other is a racist video.
Four officers are off the force because of the video, as well as racist and homophobic text messages.
Mayor Seiler said despite the two incidents, more than 99-percent of police officers are doing their jobs upholding the law.
“I think they’re competent, I think they’re professional but in every group there are a few individuals who may do something that’s not up to par, they’re a few individuals that may do something that offends us,” said Mayor Seiler.
Rossi said he has filed a motion to withdraw LaClair’s his original guilty plea to the trespassing charge in light of these new developments.
He said his client is now fearful of police and is trying to keep a low profile.