A Miami Beach cop whose sucker punch to the face of an unarmed black man was captured on police body cam footage has been relieved of patrol duties while internal affairs and state prosecutors investigate the confrontation.
The video was obtained by the Miami Herald through a Miami Beach police officer who is now demanding whistle-blower protection. It shows a group of officers outside an Ocean Drive restaurant on South Beach when Lowell Poitier Jr., 35, approaches and seems to grab something off the top of a menu stand.
In the video, a voice is heard saying “watch yourself bud” a couple of times before Poitier responds, “what? what?” Then, an officer identified as Adriel Dominguez, who joined the force in 2016, slams his right fist into the left side of Poitier’s face, knocking him down.
Frederick Dominguez, no relation to the officer who threw the punch, wasn’t at the scene on Dec. 3, but the Miami Beach police officer obtained a copy of the video, according to his attorney Michael Pizzi. After reviewing the video, the 12-year veteran took exception to it, saying it didn’t jibe with the accounts in the police reports.
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Pizzi said another reason that Dominguez decided to make the video public was his concern that department leaders push street officers to be too aggressive.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s outrageous behavior. It’s an assault in broad daylight,” said Pizzi, who is asking the city for whistle-blower protection for his client. “He clearly did not take a fighting stance or clench his fist to fight the officer like it says in the report.”
The union representing Adriel Dominguez weighed in, fully supporting the officer’s actions.
“The video, along with the police officer’s body camera’s footage captured the dangerous confrontation with an agitated, angry and physically aggressive defendant,” said Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Jenkins. “There is no question officer Dominguez was legally justified and fully entitled to protect himself.”
Senior police staff and elected leaders on Miami Beach who were alerted to the incident by the Miami Herald quickly decided to remove Dominguez from patrol duty but also urged the public not to rush to judgment on the officer’s actions. Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said he’d first seen the video Wednesday morning — nine days after the altercation.
The chief said it appeared someone had used a cellphone to record the body cam footage off another screen. He said he’s already referred the incident to the police department’s internal affairs unit and to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for review.
A major portion of the review will look into how far up the chain of command the incident had been reported, Oates said. Officers wearing body cameras are required to turn them in at the end of each shift. Any use-of-force is required to be reviewed. The footage could have been available to Adriel Dominguez’s bosses for over a week.
“This is obviously a very serious matter,” Oates said.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber was attending a commission hearing when the news broke.
“I had the same gut reaction anyone would have,” Gelber said. “But we must allow for a thorough investigation. The officer has been put on desk duty pending review.”
Police say the confrontation between Adriel Dominguez and Poitier — described as a homeless man from Orlando who has a long string of mostly non-violent arrests and domestic violence charges in the Jacksonville area — began when customers and staff at the restaurant at the Pelican Hotel at 826 Ocean Dr. informed police that Poitier was irate and refused to leave.
Police reports filed after the incident say officers who arrived after 9 p.m. were told by a witness that Poitier was calling two women “f***ing gringas. Gringas is a Spanish word that means white women.
Officers said when they approached Poitier, he was agitated, called them “crackers” and “appeared as if he wanted to challenge” the authority of one cop, the report said. The arrest report said Poitier said “what, what” and “clenched his fist, took a fighting stance and leaned into” Adriel Dominguez’s face. It went on to say that Adriel Dominguez, fearing for his safety, struck the man with his fist.
The 62-second video, however, appears to contradict the police account. Poitier doesn’t appear to clench his fist or take a fighting stance when Adriel Dominguez pulls Poitier toward him with his left hand while cold-cocking him with his closed right fist.
Poitier suffered a cut lip and was taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach for treatment. He was charged with misdemeanor assault on a police officer, resisting arrest without violence and disorderly conduct. He has since been released on bond. He is listed as homeless and could not be immediately reached for comment.
So far, he does not have an attorney. A judge could appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent him if prosecutors seek jail time. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, however, could elect to not press charges because of issues raised by the video.
The State Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors could also decide the punch was unlawful and criminally charge Adriel Dominguez. Since May, the State Attorney’s Office has charged two separate police officers on allegations they delivered unlawful kicks to suspects who were in handcuffs.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.