In late March 2011, New Yorker Jesse Campodonico and his girlfriend flew down to Miami for a wild weekend at the Ultra Music Festival at Bicentennial Park — but they never got past the entrance.
A private security guard stopped them because the girlfriend, Crystal Iglesias, was holding a glow stick in her hand.
Within seconds, Miami police officer Nathaniel Dauphin told the couple that Iglesias couldn’t enter, setting off a violent confrontation between Campodonico and a group of Miami police officers working an off-duty detail at the electronic music fest.
He claims the officers beat him up, choked him, threw him to the ground and tasered him three times — the last time directly into his back while he was lying face down — according to a lawsuit filed in Miami federal court.
All over a glow stick, which is as common to the Ultra Fest as a kid bringing a baseball mitt to a ballgame.
Campodonico, who was charged with battery but eventually cleared, claims Dauphin and fellow officers Harold James, Edward Lugo and Javier Ortiz brutalized him and that Ortiz, a sergeant, lied on an internal report to justify the arrest and use of force.
“There was nothing I could do but try to survive,” Campodonico, a buff, 27-year-old fitness trainer, told The Miami Herald. “I was trying to cover myself. There was no fighting back. It was just me trying to protect myself from them killing me.”
But the officers gave an entirely different account, stating in an internal report that Campodonico punched, bit and kicked them while officer James tasered Campodonico to subdue him.
What sets Campodonico’s police brutality lawsuit apart from others is that Dauphin and James were recently revealed to be dirty cops, after being caught up in an FBI undercover investigation. Both officers pleaded guilty to extortion charges after admitting they took cash payments in exchange for providing protection for a Liberty City sports-betting ring in Dauphin’s case, and a check-cashing store, in James’s case.
As for Ortiz, a sergeant, he was recently elected president of the Fraternal Order of Police union after serving as its vice president.
A bystander video-recorded the Ultra Music confrontation on March 25, 2011, the first night of the weekend event, on a cell phone and posted it on the Internet. The video is dark and distant, and doesn’t capture the entire event, making it difficult to see how the confrontation started and exactly what transpired. It does show an officer tasering Campodonico while he was face-down and his body inches from the ground.
On the video, audio captured a man criticizing the officers’ actions. He can be heard saying, “That’s f---ed up. That’s f---ed up.” A school teacher standing nearby yelled, “They’re going to kill him,” before she rushed in to help Campodonico, according to her deposition in the state battery case.
Ortiz and Lugo deny any misconduct, saying through their FOP attorney that the suit is “nonsense.”
“It costs $300 to file a lawsuit,” FOP attorney Ronald Cohen said. “But it takes evidence to prove it. We look forward to complete vindication for these fine officers.”
Dauphin and James, who are both free while awaiting sentencing, could not be reached for comment. The city of Miami, also a defendant in the civil suit, declined to comment in an email.