Crime

Police union defends baton beating caught on video as within 'use of force matrix'

Video shows Florida police officers beating suspect with batons

Video posted to Twitter shows Hallandale Beach police officers beating a theft suspect with batons. According to the poster, the man is well known in the area and is believed to be mentally disabled.
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Video posted to Twitter shows Hallandale Beach police officers beating a theft suspect with batons. According to the poster, the man is well known in the area and is believed to be mentally disabled.

A day after two Hallandale Beach police officers were relieved of duty after a video surfaced of them striking an unarmed man several times with their batons, the president of the city's police union said the officers were not out of bounds in their attempt to restrain the suspect.

Jeff Marano, president of Hallandale Beach's Police Benevolent Association, also cautioned the public not to jump to conclusions.

"They were well within the use of force matrix," Marano said. "The strikes were below the knees or the thighs. We need to wait. We shouldn't rush to judgment."

Though most of the baton strikes captured on the cellphone video, which is 1 minute and 8 seconds long, appeared to be below the waist, one of the officers appears to strike Daniel Dunkelberger, 27, at least once in the head area above his left shoulder.

On Thursday, a posting of the cellphone video by a Twitter user with the handle ameezy8732 created a firestorm. By late afternoon, Hallandale Beach City Manager Roger Carlton said during a hastily-called press conference that the two officers involved in the arrest had been placed on administrative leave and that the police department's Internal Affairs unit was investigating the altercation.

On Friday, Carlton said that in the era of social media and how people react to such posts, it's become mandatory to place officers caught in questionable acts on video on administrative paid leave until an investigation is completed. Like Marano, he, too, urged caution until a probe was finished.

"We want to ensure the community that we care about these situations," said Carlton. "We need to deal with these situations openly and immediately."

According to the suspect's arrest affidavit, the confrontation between Dunkelberger and veteran Hallandale cops Jaime Cerna and Richard Allen began at about 1 p.m. Wednesday after Dunkelberger was observed breaking into an unlocked 2005 Acura and stealing a cellphone and its charger.

The officers said that after arriving at 250 SW 10th Ave., they attempted to subdue Dunkelberger, but he tensed and they were unable to restrain him. From a close distance, at least two attempts to electronically Taser Dunkelberger failed, police said.

The video picks up with Dunkelberger standing unrestrained between the open front driver's side door of the patrol car and the steering wheel and with the officers ordering him to the ground. On Friday, police and Carlton couldn't explain how the suspect was able to get so close to the open patrol vehicle and its driver's seat. Carlton said one of the officers was wearing a body camera and police were trying to obtain nearby surveillance video.

When Dunkelberger doesn't obey the commands to "go to the ground," the video shows, both officers begin striking him with their batons. Most of the strikes appear to be to the lower part of his body. At least one seems to be near his head. Eventually Dunkelberger goes to the ground, on his back.

Dunkelberger screams in agony. A man can be heard on the video telling the victim, "I understand he robbed you, but he doesn't need to hit him after the fact." Police then turn Dunkelberger onto his stomach and handcuff him behind his back.

Dunkelberger was charged with burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and obstructing and resisting an officer without violence.

Cerna, an 11-year veteran, was placed on paid administrative leave. Allen, a retired 35-year veteran who works part-time and is paid hourly, will not work until the investigation is completed, Carlton said.

Dunkelberger has a criminal history with law enforcement in Broward County that dates back to 2009, state records show. He was arrested by Hollywood police in 2009 for burglary and pleaded no contest. That same year, Davie police charged him with aggravated assault with a weapon. He again pleaded no contest. Several times he was charged with violating his probation.

He's also been charged and convicted of being in possession of a controlled substance and driving under the influence in Broward County, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show.

Dunkelberger remained in the North Broward Bureau Jail in Pompano Beach on Friday.

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