Video shows Broward deputy punching man handcuffed to hospital bed
A Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy whose body camera footage showed him punching a man handcuffed to a hospital bed was charged Friday with a single count of misdemeanor battery Thursday.
Jorge Sobrino, 24, was arrested in connection with his handling of David Rafferty O’Connell, whom Sobrino had arrested earlier on Jan. 2 at a Walmart for threatening to fight an employee. While in a room at Broward Health North medical center, O’Connell complained he did not want to be treated and repeatedly cussed at the officer. Sobrino, bodycam footage showed, struck O’Connell in the head with his right fist and twisted the man’s arm behind his back.
The rough encounter was brought to light in April when Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein sent a letter to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony demanding an investigation. Finkelstein called the punch “clear police abuse.” The incident also was just one in a recent string of embarrassing episodes for the department that has come under fire for its actions during a pair of shooting rampages and violent arrests over the past few years.
The Broward State Attorney released a single-page statement Friday saying only that Sobrino was charged after video showed him “punching an inmate who was handcuffed to a hospital bed.” The state attorney said that, if convicted, Sobrino could spend up to a year in jail. Sobrino didn’t have to turn himself in and is not expected in court for a few weeks.
Shortly after the state attorney announced the charges, Tony announced that Sobrino had been suspended without pay. The timing of the announcements had been a point of contention between the two government agencies. Earlier in the week Tony said he couldn’t make a decision on Sobrino before the state attorney’s findings. State Attorney Michael Satz disputed that.
The charges against Sobrino came two days after two other Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies were fired for their actions during last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. And, after civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump visited the Broward County Courthouse to blast BSO and the state attorney for taking too long in deciding whether to charge two officers who violently arrested a Broward teen back in April.
The nationally acclaimed civil rights attorney has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, an unarmed black man killed outside of St. Louis by a white police officer, an incident that began a series of sometimes violent protests across the country. Crump gave BSO and the state attorney until July 4 to make a decision, or, he said, he’d petition the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved.
On Friday afternoon, Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, came to Sobrino’s defense. He pointed out that the officer had been cleared of any wrongdoing by BSO’s Use-of-Force Review Board earlier this year. Bell said he felt certain the officer would be cleared and said if the officer’s body camera video is slowed down frame by frame, O’Connell can be seen reaching for Sobrino before the officer struck him.
“The optics look bad in real time,” said Bell. “But slow it down and you’ll see he was justified.”
O’Connell was arrested by Sobrino and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence after the suspect fought with an worker at a Pompano Beach Walmart. In O’Connell’s arrest report, Sobrino said he struck the suspect several times in his face to gain compliance, before he was taken to the hospital to be observed for his injuries.
Once at the hospital, the video shows O’Connell repeatedly say he didn’t want to be there. Then he’s given a plastic bottle to urinate into while handcuffed to the bed. When O’Connell asks Sobrino, “What, now you’re going to beat my ass again?” The deputy replies: “I will if I have to.” Then, not responding to Sobrino’s orders, O’Connell says “F--- you,” before he’s punched.
BSO has been dealing with a series of gaffes going to back to early January 2017 when troubled Army combat veteran Esteban Santiago flew to Fort Lauderdale from Alaska, pieced together a gun in a bathroom at the airport, then randomly shot and killed five people and injured eight others. BSO was blamed for a communication breakdown that led to panic when word got out incorrectly that there was a shooter in another part of the airport.
Then a state-appointed safety commission found all types of problems with the way BSO handled the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting that left 17 dead and another 17 injured in February 2018. The issues ranged from a poor communications system that created chaos at the scene, to a lack of command structure during the crisis, to officers who chose to position themselves away from the active shooter rather than confront him.
The fallout led to the governor replacing elected Broward Sheriff Scott Israel with former Coral Springs cop Gregory Tony and the firing of four officers, two on Wednesday, mostly for failing to confront Nikolas Cruz as he shot his way through the freshman building on campus.
Then came a series of violent arrests caught on cellphone or police body cameras that sped through social media, causing condemnation from the public, activists, even sports stars with large social media followings.
One that has yet to be resolved is the April 18 arrest of 15-year-old J.P. Taravella freshman Delucca Rolle. Cellphone video footage showed Rolle reaching down to the ground for a cellphone where a large group of students had gathered in a McDonald’s parking lot near the school.
As he does, he is immediately confronted by a BSO deputy, who pepper sprays then pushes the teen to the ground before twice smashing his head into the pavement. Rolle was charged with assaulting a police officer and obstruction without violence. But those charges were quickly dropped.
The video, which has had more than 10 million views, was seen by elected leaders in Tallahassee and even NBA superstar LeBron James, who tweeted about the incident. Under pressure from the public and elected officials, Tony suspended Deputies Christopher Krikovich and Sgt. Gregory LaCerra and ordered them to turn in their badges and stay off BSO property.
In May, the sheriff turned his findings over to the state attorney, which was criticized earlier this week by Crump, Delucca family members, state elected leaders and the NAACP for taking too long to make a determination on the deputies.