A Fort Lauderdale police officer who slapped a homeless man who had been sleeping on a bench at a bus terminal in downtown Fort Lauderdale was acquitted Wednesday by a jury of the charges despite the assault being recorded by a bystander.
Victor Ramirez, 25, was facing three misdemeanor charges, including two counts of battery and one count of falsifying records.
During the trial, he testified that he was trying to protect his gun from getting into the hands of homeless man, Bruce Laclair, and that Laclair was not complying with his orders to leave the bus terminal.
In the video taken by a bystander, LaClaire argued and used profanity towards Ramirez, but only after the officer pushed him to the ground.
Broward County prosecutor Chris Killoran accused Ramirez of using excessive force by smacking LaClaire and then lying on a police report to explain why used excessive force.
“What he did that day, that’s excessive. That’s not humane. That’s not civil. That’s not professional. That’s not what he was taught at the academy,” said Killoran.
Ramirez testified that believed his life was in danger.
“I wanted him to stop,” he testified. “This is the second time he showed aggression toward me. He just tried to turn on me and I had to take action.”
The incident occurred on February, 22nd, 2015 and was recorded by a bystander. The video shows LaClaire walked by the person recording. A few seconds later, Ramirez pushed Laclaire to the ground.
He then said, “Relax. I’m telling you right now what is going to happen. You’re not supposed to go pee here.”
They then argued for a short while and then Ramirez grabbed Laclaire’s arm and slapped him and then said, “I’m not fucking around with you. Don’t fucking touch me. Don’t fucking touch me.”
Ramirez then arrested Laclaire.
Ramirez’s defense attorney argued that Ramirez acted within his authority as a police officer and that his limited use of force actually showed restraint.
Ramirez’s response was a familiar one. He claimed he was just doing his job and said that LaClaire was drunk.
But prosecutors maintain there is no evidence showing Laclair was intoxicated when he fell to the ground after Ramirez slapped him.
A few months before this incident occurred, 90-year old, Arnold Abbott, was arrested in Fort Lauderdale for feeding the homeless population. Abbott was arrested with police using a new Fort Lauderdale law that criminalizes feeding the homeless.
Two weeks after his first arrest, Fort Lauderdale officers confronted the location where Abbott and his charity were feeding the homeless again and one officer yelled, “drop that plate right now” as other officers picked up trays off food and put them directly in the garbage while lines of homeless people watched.
Abbott later gave credit to the officers for not arresting him and being more polite the second time he and his charity had contact with police.
“They were very gentle. I think they feel a little guilty doing their job,” he quipped.
In the case against Ramirez, jurors deliberated for just 90 minutes before returning their not guilty verdict.
But they probably didn’t get to hear about the 87-page internal affairs report that Ramirez was involved in at least 40 incidents at the bus terminal. Most of those involved him using physical force. He even tasered people a few times while working off-duty.
According to the report, there were at least ten documented incidents in which physical force was used. Only two of those happening outside the Broward Central Terminal and eight occurred at the terminal.
But the verdict is not surprising. Particularly when one considers the Kelly Thomas murder, where his brutal murder was caught on video as well. Yet in spite of the overwhelming evidence that officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli committed murder, a jury acquitted them.
When asked if he was surprised about the verdict LaClaire said, “I’m a little surprised, but shocked? It’s been a long and interesting journey and I’m glad it’s over.”
Victor Ramirez is no longer with the department.