HOMESTEAD, Fla. - A Florida police officer is facing criminal charges after surveillance footage appeared to show him shove a handcuffed inmate face-first into a concrete wall, causing blood to pour from the man’s face.
Homestead reserve police Officer Lester Brown, 51, turned himself in Aug. 7 on charges of felony battery and official misconduct, according to WPLG Local 10 in Pembroke Park. The Miami Herald reported Brown has served as a booking officer for the Homestead police force since November 2007.
“Officer Brown’s actions were not only improper, but they were crimes,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said during a news conference last week.
HAPPENING NOW: Joint Press Conference in my office with @CityofHomestead Police Chief Alexander Rolle, Jr. to announce the charging of Homestead Correctional Officer Lester Brown & discuss the investigation leading to his arrest on Felony Battery & Official Misconduct charges. pic.twitter.com/1gMkXmW4KU— Kathy Rundle (@KathyFndzRundle) August 7, 2019
The incident for which Brown is charged took place Dec. 1, when a homeless, undocumented migrant worker, Jose Trinidad Garcia Alvarado, 50, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence. WPLG Local 10 reported Garcia had broken the window of a home.
Video released by Rundle’s office shows a shirtless Garcia being led into the Homestead substation by five officers, including Brown, who is wearing blue latex-type gloves. Brown leads Garcia, who appears to be talking or arguing with the officers, into the booking area.
Watch the footage from the Miami-Dade State Attorney Office below, courtesy of WPLG Local 10. Warning: The video may be disturbing to some viewers.
The footage switches to the camera in the booking room, where Garcia continues to speak to the officers standing behind him.
At no time does Garcia appear to make threatening moves or gestures toward the officers.
When he turns his head toward Brown, the officer appears to grab Garcia’s right shoulder and, in one quick movement, spin him toward the wall and shove him violently into the concrete.
The video shows a dazed Garcia fall to the floor and, as Brown moves over him, blood starts to pour from a gash above his left eye. The Herald reported the cut on Garcia's head had to be closed with surgical glue.
Rundle said within minutes, the incident was brought to the attention of Homestead police Chief Alexander Rolle, who then turned the case over to her office.
“Homestead is a small department, a small community, but we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior from our police officers,” Rolle said. “We never have and we never will.”
Rundle said last week that Brown lied in his written report about the incident. According to WPLG Local 10, the officer wrote that he “heard a commotion” and found Garcia trying to attack his fellow officers.
Brown claimed he grabbed Garcia’s forearms to “guide him” but that the inmate pushed back in an attempt to attack the officers. He wrote that Garcia fell forward into the wall.
“We believe that the video evidence does not support Officer Brown’s written account that Garcia attempted to attack the officers,” Rundle said, according to the news station. “We believe, as do the police officers and the police chief, that the video evidence does not support the Garcia struggle with Officer Lester Brown by pushing on him or that Garcia was injured by falling forward into the wall.
“There’s no question that Officer Brown’s initial actions resulted in the injury of Mr. Garcia.”
Rolle said Brown was immediately relieved of duty following the incident.
The Herald reported it took several months for authorities to file criminal charges against Brown because Garcia was difficult to locate. He has since returned to the Miami-Dade area and is cooperating with authorities.
Rolle said Garcia’s legal status is not pertinent to the case against Brown.
“He’s a human being first,” Rolle said, according to the Herald.
Brown’s lawyer, C. Michael Cornely, told the Herald the case against his client is political.
“I think the case is totally overcharged, which seems to be the mantra of the State Attorney’s Office these days,” Cornely said.
Brown is the latest in a string of officers in Miami-Dade County who have been charged in connection with alleged violence against handcuffed suspects. Three Miami-Dade officers are currently awaiting trial in separate cases.
Miami Officer Mario Figueroa was accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect but was acquitted of wrongdoing in April, the Herald reported.
Former Miami Officer Lester Bohnenblust was convicted earlier this summer of throwing a Jackson Memorial Hospital nursing supervisor to the floor during a confrontation about Bohnenblust’s niece, who had been discharged the day before from the behavioral health unit, the newspaper reported. Bohnenblust, 51, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and lost his job.
Watch footage below of Brown shoving and slapping a handcuffed woman in 2016, courtesy of CBS Miami. Warning: Brown uses explicit language in the video.
Brown is no stranger to claims of excessive force.
According to the Herald, Brown in September 2016 was accused of slapping a handcuffed, seated woman inside the police station, claiming she was about to headbutt him.
As in the Garcia case, surveillance footage “did not capture any threatening moves” by the woman, according to court documents obtained by the newspaper. CBS Miami reported that Rundle's office declined to file charges against Brown in that case.
Though Homestead police officials fired Brown, he got his job back through the arbitration process. He served an eight-month suspension instead, the Herald said.
Brown is currently suing the city of Homestead for discrimination, claiming he has been passed over for a promotion to patrol officer for several years.
His suit alleges he has been looked over because of two missing fingers on his left hand, the Herald reported.