Crime

Cop says he slapped black Miami man because he spit on him. Prosecutors didn’t buy it.

Prosecutors have dropped felony charges against a Miami man who was slapped twice by a police officer while handcuffed and mouthing off to cops, an incident captured on bystander video.

The Miami-Dade police officer, Humberto Rodriguez, said that Jacksonville Gaston spit on him twice and he slapped the man as “distractionary strikes.”

But the State Attorney’s Office said that police officers involved, in depositions, couldn’t remember enough precise details about the supposed spits. The state dropped felony charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer.

“The incident happened too fast and the officers were not able to give specific details a jury would need to hear,” according to a final memo on the case by prosecutor Joseph Feldman.

As part of a plea deal, Gaston, 27, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge. No conviction will show on his criminal record, and he does not have to serve any jail time or probation, or pay fines.

Gaston’s defense lawyer, Chad Piotrowski, said “the story the officers concocted was simply false.”

“The officer claimed Jacksonville spit on him. The video evidence proved otherwise,” Piotrowski said. “Luckily, the officers couldn’t keep their stories straight in deposition and based on their inconsistent and inaccurate testimony, the prosecutor was left with no choice but to dismiss the felony charges.”

It was but one of a slew of slaps, kicks or punches by South Florida police over the past year that have led to backlash from the public. Police use of force, particularly against African-American men, has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years as more cases have been caught on video emerge.

In Miami-Dade over the past year, prosecutors have charged at least four officers in separate cases. The most recent: Miami-Dade Officer Alejandro Giraldo, who is accused of misdemeanor battery for roughing up a woman who had been the victim of an assault.

But so far, the State Attorney’s Office hasn’t secured any convictions. Another cop, Miami Officer Mario Figueroa, was accused of kicking at a handcuffed suspect — but a judge last month acquitted him at trial. The incident involving Gaston remains under internal affairs investigation by Miami-Dade police.

Gaston’s case happened on Aug. 29, 2018, when an off-duty Miami police officer saw a woman hanging out of a car driven by the man in an apparent domestic dispute. He pulled the car over, then called dispatchers, who sent county police officers to the scene in Southwest Miami-Dade.

Booking_Photo_-_Jacksonville_Gasto_fitted.jpeg
Jacksonville Gaston, 26, was arrested by police in August 2018 on multiple charges. One of the officers who arrested him was investigated for slapping Gaston in the face after he was in custody. Miami-Dade Corrections

Gaston walked away, the keys to the car in his pocket. The woman, who owned the car, did not want police help.

Gaston returned, talking on the phone, but refused to take his other hand out of his pocket, according to police. A scrum ensued with police and one officer lost his contact lens. “The defendant was flailing his arms and legs and would not allow the officers to hand cuff him,” according to the final memo.

Officers tried getting Gaston, now handcuffed and with his back to the patrol car, into the vehicle. Cellphone and body camera footage showed Rodriguez holding the man’s jaw, then slapping him twice. If there were spits, they are not clearly visible on the footage.

He later said that Gaston had spit on him twice, once while he was being walked to the car, the other time while he had his back to the patrol car. But Rodriguez, even while shown the videos during depositions, could not remember details about the spits, even the “exact point in which this occurred,” the memo said.

Gaston isn’t out of legal hot water. In December, he was picked up in another case in which he is accused of battering police officers and resisting with violence. He’s pleaded not guilty.

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