‘A Facebook misdemeanor.’ Judge acquits Miami cop accused of kicking at handcuffed suspect

Video shows cop kicking defenseless suspect in the head

A city of Miami police officer was relieved of duty by the department after a video surfaced that shows him kicking a defenseless suspect in the head.
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A city of Miami police officer was relieved of duty by the department after a video surfaced that shows him kicking a defenseless suspect in the head.

A judge on Wednesday acquitted a Miami police officer accused of kicking at the head of a handcuffed suspect lying on the ground in Overtown.

Miami-Dade County Judge Michael Barket dismissed the misdemeanor assault charge against Officer Mario Figueroa in a case that had gone viral on social media against the backdrop of increased scrutiny on law-enforcement tactics.

His defense lawyer insisted that Figueroa acted properly against a dangerous carjacking suspect who had led officers on a high-speed chase.

“This was a crime created on social media. This was a Facebook misdemeanor,” said attorney Robert Buschel. “In a court of law, the case failed.”

The judge issued the acquittal midway through the trial, before the defense even mounted its case. Figueroa, who was fired from the police department but is hoping to get his job back, was planning to testify.

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said Wednesday that he still believes Figueroa should not be a cop.

“What I saw depicted in the video, I felt was not in the best interest of the department,” the chief said. “We’re in the business of building trust in the community. We can’t have the community afraid of the police.”

The kick happened in May 2018, after Suazo crashed a stolen car and led cops on a foot chase through an Overtown apartment complex.

As Suazo was on the ground and being arrested by other officers, Figueroa was seen running up to him and kicking at the man’s head.

A resident captured the kick on her cellphone and posted the clip online. The video sparked immediate backlash, with Colina suspending Figueroa immediately.

The office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has faced criticism over the years for not charging officers in use-of-force cases, charged Figueroa one week later.

“I was shocked and appalled by what I saw,” the state attorney said days before the announcement of the charges.

From the get-go, Miami-Dade prosecutors acknowledged that Figueroa’s kick did not actually strike Suazo. Body camera footage recorded Suazo mocking Figueroa while handcuffed at a local hospital, where police had transported him after he had complained of chest pains.

Figueroa replied: “If I wanted to kick you, you know, I would have kicked you right.”

“If you wanted to, you’d got your ass shot,” Suazo replied.

Even though Suazo was already on the ground in handcuffs, Figueroa insisted to the man that his action was justified. “Me pretending to kick you got you to comply,” the officer said at the hospital, according to the footage.

Trial started on Monday. Suazo, who remains jailed in Broward County, was not called to testify. Instead, three police officers and the woman who filmed the encounter took the stand.

Figueroa planned to testify that he believed Suazo was still resisting arrest and he diverted his kick at the last second when he saw otherwise. The defense planned to call a use-of-force expert to testify to the jurors.

But after prosecutors rested their case, Buschel asked Judge Barket to grant a judgment of acquittal. Barket agreed.

“His rationale was that he did not find that the victim was in fear of imminent bodily harm,” said State Attorney’s spokesman Ed Griffith.

Legally, prosecutors cannot appeal the judge’s acquittal. Barket created confusion, however, when after issuing the acquittal, he told the defense to start presenting its witnesses.

“I think maybe he was just joking around,” Buschel said.