For three months, Miami police officer John Askew’s supervisors weren’t aware that the nine-year veteran twice stomped on an armed robbery suspect’s head at the end of a heated car and foot chase. They only learned about it when the department’s virtual police unit reviewed police body-cam footage for an upcoming trial and passed the information up the chain of command.
After an internal review that took almost a year, the department sided with Askew’s claim that he feared for his life when he saw a black object fly from the hand of the female teenager, prompting him to kick her head twice with the heel of his right shoe. That object turned out to be her flip-flop.
State prosecutors later agreed it wasn’t a criminal act and Askew wound up receiving a letter of reprimand and a 40-hour suspension for failing to fill out a report that is required any time force is used.
Now, about 18 months after the February 2017 incident, a civilian panel created to oversee police actions has taken exception to the department’s findings. On Friday, after viewing the body-cam video, the complaints committee of Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel voted to pass along a recommendation from its director that found Askew had used excessive force in trying to subdue the suspect.
The 3-2 decision came after heated debate. Some members sided with police, saying Askew’s argument that he used force to subdue the teen was warranted because some panel members believed he was chasing an armed robber and because the officer feared the object in her hand might have been a weapon. Others questioned why it was OK for an officer to stomp on someone’s head when they’re lying on the ground on their stomach.
“It was a desperate situation. He was in a fight for his life,” said committee member Steven Navarrete.
Countered panel member Douglas Mayer: “I see an officer who’s out of control. I don’t need to see anymore.”
The incident, according to police, unfolded after a male armed with a gun stole a woman’s purse from her parked car at Northwest Seventh Avenue and 71st Street and then fled in a car. Both the victim and a witness called police, with the witness following the car until police caught up.
The vehicle eventually crashed at Northwest Second Court and 94th Street in Miami Shores. The driver bailed and jumped a fence; police didn’t catch him. Then the young woman took off. The body-cam video picks up with an officer racing along the street, then across grass and around trees until he comes up behind Askew, who is also chasing her while holding what appears to be a Taser in one hand and a radio in another.
When another officer takes the teen to the ground, he slips and rolls away. That’s when the video shows Askew racing toward the teen and stomping on her.
At one point he says, “You tried running. I got you now.” During the struggle, a black object can be seen flying by. Then while cuffing her, Askew says, “Move again, I dare you.” Handcuffed, he takes her to a patrol car. The teen was charged with armed robbery with a deadly weapon and third-degree grand theft.
Three months later, the video was discovered. Internal Affairs finished its review in March. Askew told an Internal Affairs investigator in a recorded interview that “I feared for my life, the officers’ lives. So I didn’t know what the object was.”
The committee’s recommendation will be passed along to the full board of the Civilian Investigative Panel , which will vote on whether to uphold the committee’s recommendation. If it does, Cristina Beamud, the panel’s executive director, will pen a letter to Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina. Colina can take action but it’s not likely.
“Unless there’s any new information that we didn’t have at the time, the investigation is closed,” said Miami Deputy Police Chief Ronald Papier.