FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Police have opened a criminal investigation into an officer who was videotaped pushing and slapping a homeless man at a bus terminal in downtown Fort Lauderdale — a city that made national headlines for its ban on feeding homeless people in some public areas.
In the video, Officer Victor Ramirez confronts a man who had been sleeping on a bench inside the open-air terminal. Ramirez shoves the man to the ground, then slaps him hard in the face and handcuffs him.
"I tell you what to do, you're going to do it — it's just that simple," Ramirez tells Bruce Laclair, 58. "What do you think is going to happen? What do you think is going to happen? I didn't want to take you to jail."
The video, apparently taken by a man at the bus terminal and provided to a local television station, appeared on YouTube shortly after the Sunday incident.
Ramirez, a nine-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, was placed an indefinite leave with pay as soon as the video surfaced, Chief Frank Adderley said Tuesday. Adderley said the department first learned of the video from the TV station.
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Ramirez was working an off-duty detail at the bus station at the request of county transit officials, Adderley said. The officials had expressed concern about safety issues there, but didn't provide any specifics or examples Tuesday.
The latest incident comes after Fort Lauderdale made national headlines for arresting homeless advocates who were ignoring a city ordinance banning feeding of homeless people in certain public areas, such as city parks. Among those arrested was 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, known locally as "Chef Abbott," who has made it his mission to feed the homeless where they congregate.
Sean Cononie, founder of the Homeless Voice advocacy group, said the police video was disgusting and a sign that the city's true mission is to rid itself of the homeless.
"We've heard over the last 20 years that this kind of thing happens," Cononie said. "They treat you like you're nothing but a piece of filth."
But City Manager Lee Feldman said the city's aim is to keep the homeless away from places where there is no shelter or accommodations for them.
"I wouldn't say we have an image problem — we have some misperceptions about the way we treat the homeless," Feldman said.
Ramirez has no previous disciplinary actions on his police record and three citizen complaints proved to be unfounded, Adderley said. Details of those complaints were not immediately available.
Laclair, meanwhile, was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and was released earlier Tuesday on bail. In brief remarks to reporters outside the jail, Laclair said he was angry and in pain but did not think Fort Lauderdale police were targeting the homeless.
"I respect the law enforcement people here to the utmost," Laclair said. "This guy, he's got a problem."