Touchdowns at football games are often hard to come by. Drunks in the stands, not so much.
That some will show up in all their inebriated obnoxious glory is the surest bet you can make on the huge University of Miami-Notre Dame game Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium.
Typically, really bad drunks — ones that annoy other fans so much that security is called in — are handled with little drama, ushered out to some place they can sober up or wait for a safe ride home. Actual arrests aren’t that common. More than 63,000 fans were in the stands at the Canes’ nationally televised game last Saturday, for instance, and Miami-Dade police made only two of them.
But one of them made headlines and the sparring in the stands between Miami-Dade police officer Douglas Ross and a 30-year-old UM fan from Pembroke Pines named Bridget Freitas has produced almost as much post-game analysis as the play on the field.
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The encounter — captured in a viral video on fellow fan Eric Argueta’s cellphone — showed Freitas being hauled out on the shoulders of cops, taking an open-handed swipe at Ross’s bare head. Ross fires back with a viper-fast right jab that rocks the woman backward.
Upon further review, the refs of social media appear to side more heavily with the officer and Miami-Dade’s police union also calls his response justified. But some, including a few law enforcement experts, say the rough treatment of a football fan — even one whom numerous surrounding fans reported as acting deeply drunk — may have crossed the line. Ross’ supervisors have promised to study the video to determine whether the detective used excessive force.
This much is clear: For police and sports security teams, handling the hammered fan is often dicey.
“When you’re dealing with drunks, it’s a no-win situation,” said retired Baltimore police captain and now security consultant Gerard Busnuk. “You tell them what you want or you tell them you’re going to have to arrest them. If you’re going to arrest someone who doesn’t want to be arrested, it’s never going to be pretty.”
Miami-Dade police say that their officers, who provide mostly off-duty security at the stadium, do their utmost to use restraint, pointing out that only two people were arrested Saturday night during what was probably the rowdiest UM game in almost two decades. They say they make every attempt to remove a drunken fan instead of making an arrest.
“We try to get them to the concourse,” said Miami-Dade Police Lt. Juan Villalba Jr. But in Freitas’s case, “she refused several orders to leave.”
But former city of Miami police Chief Kenneth Harms, now retired in Gainesville, had a different take. Harms questioned why officers didn’t use more restraint on Freitas’ arms and legs before taking her out of the stands. He said a fist to the face can injure both the suspect and the officer.
“He reacted to it in an inappropriate manner by using his hands to her face,” said Harms. “It’s bad business to do that. He reacted without thought.”
Busnuk, the retired Baltimore police captain, echoed that view. “I’m not going to go out on a limb and say it’s excessive force. But police were acting in the stadium as semi-bouncers and I wouldn’t want bouncers to punch people in the face.”
Freitas was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and battery on a law enforcement officer. She has not yet spoken in public about the arrest and has not responded to numerous phone calls and messages left at her home over the last several days. She bonded out of jail quickly and her first court hearing is set for Dec. 4. She has no attorney listed in her court documents.
According to Freitas’ arrest affidavit, it wasn’t long after Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff that Ross was called to Section 129 to deal with a disturbance. The initial part of the encounter wasn’t caught on the video. The officer said that when he arrived, Freitas was cussing and arguing with other fans. Ross, in uniform but working an off-duty shift, said he made several attempts to calm her down and get her to walk down the steps to the concourse.
But Freitas sat on the stairs, refused to move and held onto a railing, Ross said. When two other off-duty officers tried and failed to to lift Freitas, Ross and another officer helped hoist the woman up onto their shoulders. The video begins with Freitas struggling as she’s being carried on the officer’s shoulders, her arms and legs flailing.
She swings on open-fisted hand that misses its mark, then backhands Ross on the left side of his face. The video shows him immediately striking Freitas in the face with a punch. Her body goes limp and the four cops quickly carry her away from the crowd and into the concourse. In the arrest affidavit, Ross said he hit Freitas “to gain compliance and control.”
Ross, who has spent much of his career as a detective in the warrants bureau, joined Miami-Dade in 1999. His personnel jacket is filled with commendations for arrests made between 2003 and 2015 and for work habits that range from courteous and polite to great and outstanding.
His union president John Rivera said Ross was justified in striking Freitas and that all he did was “react to her actions.”
Villalba said there is no specialized training for officers working football games. He said cops are trained yearly on how to deal with large crowds and that use of force tactics in those situations can change as quickly as a crowd’s mood.
During the game against Virginia Tech, Villalba said, officers dealing with Freitas also had to contend with an inebriated crowd. They were worried some might have tried to confront them and they had to safely navigate the stairs while carting her off.
“There were 20 ejections and two arrests,” said the lieutenant. “Our usual course of action is to get people to leave voluntarily.”
Miami-Dade’s use-of-force policy is vague and does not directly address punching a person. It says use of force must be “objectively reasonable” and should be determined by a “reasonable officer on the scene, rather than the 20/20 vision of hindsight” It also says that “police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.”
Argueta, who videotaped the incident, told WPLG Channel 10 that Freitas was causing such a fracas that everyone in sections 129 and 130 was paying attention to her.
“She looked like she had no control of herself and she was refusing to leave the stadium,” he said. “This is why it took four police officers to get her out.”
Last Saturday’s game — like the upcoming Notre Dame-UM match-up, a game with the national championship implications — provided plenty of drinking opportunities and motivation to party. Night games also offer more time for pregame tailgating.
And not only beer, but all forms of alcohol are for sale during UM games at Hard Rock, home to Miami’s professional football team the Miami Dolphins. Though beer sales were long frowned on at many college stadiums across the country, it has become more common in the last decade or so, with more than two dozen stadiums now allowing it.
UM has long been an outlier in that area. The football team has either played in the Orange Bowl or at Hard Rock Stadium since 1937. The Orange Bowl, which was owned by the city of Miami, had no beer restrictions. The stadium, razed in 2008, even had a small drunk tank that also served as a holding cell for rowdies.