Whistleblower cop releases video showing another officer sucker punching unarmed black man
By Erin Donaghue
/ CBS News
The Miami Beach Police Department says it is investigating footage released by one of its own officers showing a fellow officer sucker-punching an unarmed black man at a restaurant Dec. 3.
Attorney Michael Pizzi emailed the video obtained by his client, Miami Beach Police Officer Frederick Dominguez, to police and city leaders Wednesday. Pizzi says Dominguez wasn't on the scene at the Pelican restaurant in Miami Beach when the incident occurred, but was able to obtain the video, which is a cellphone recording of a body cam video that is apparently playing on another screen.
The video shows a man sitting a table at a restaurant before getting up and walking around a menu stand near where some officers are gathered, gesturing with his hand. Someone can be heard saying, "Watch yourself, dog." The man approaches one of the officers and says, "What, what?" The officer is then seen grabbing him with his left hand and violently punching him with his right fist and the man falls to the ground.
The video doesn't show what led up to the encounter. According to a police report obtained by the Miami Herald, officers were called to the restaurant because the man was acting irate, refusing to leave and yelling expletives at two women.
CBS Miami identifies the officer seen in the video as Adriel Dominguez, who is not related to the officer accusing him. The Miami Herald identified the person who was punched as 35-year-old Lowell Poitier, a homeless man from Orlando who had a string of arrests and domestic violence charges in the Jacksonville area.
In a statement Wednesday, Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said he was made aware of the incident Wednesday and said it was "obviously a very serious matter." He said he directed his internal affairs unit to immediately launch an investigation, notified the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office and relieved the officer of his patrol duties.
Pizzi, who also provided a copy of the video to CBS News, said his client wanted to go public because the incident occurred in front of multiple other officers more than a week ago, none of whom reported it.
"It is shocking and horrible that in this day and age a citizen could be brutally assaulted like this in broad daylight on Miami Beach and nobody did anything about it," said Pizzi, who has requested whistleblower protection for his client, in a statement. "My client is a brave police officer who is standing up for justice for the citizens the police are supposed to protect."
Miami Beach police did not immediately respond to a request from CBS News for a copy of the original police report. Pizzi, who has seen the report, said it contradicts the video and amounts to a "bold-faced lie." According to the Miami Herald, the report says the man called the officers "crackers," acted agitated and "appeared as if he wanted to challenge" one of the officers. It says the man said, "what, what," and then "clenched his fist, took a fighting stance and leaned into" the officer's face, and the officer struck the man with his fist because he feared for his safety.
The video, however, appears to show the officer pulling the man towards him with his left hand before violently striking him.
Pizzi said his client believes the department puts pressure on him and other officers to be aggressive, and said he doesn't trust internal affairs to handle the investigation. Pizzi said he's calling on the U.S. attorney's office and the state attorney's office to independently investigate and to protect Dominguez from any possible retaliation for exposing the video.
In a statement, Miami Beach city manager Jimmy Morales said "mistreatment of anyone by our police officers is unacceptable."
"I have full faith and confidence in our police department to complete a thorough investigation into this matter to determine what happened," Morales said.
The Herald reports Poitier suffered a cut lip and was treated at a hospital. He was charged with misdemeanor assault on a police officer, resisting arrest without violence and disorderly conduct, and has since been released on bond. The paper was unable to reach him for comment.
First published on December 13, 2018
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Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.