A Homestead police officer surrendered Wednesday to face allegations he pushed a handcuffed inmate into a wall, a blow severe enough to cause the man’s face to bleed profusely.
Officer Lester Brown, 51, is facing criminal charges of felony battery and official misconduct. The December 2018 incident was caught on internal surveillance video at a Homestead police station.
Brown is the latest in a series of cops charged in Miami-Dade over the use of force against handcuffed people, all of the incidents caught on video. The cases have come against the backdrop of an ongoing national debate over police use of force and friction between law enforcement and communities of color.
Brown’s defense attorney, C. Michael Cornely, described the arrest as a “political” vendetta.
“I think the case is totally overcharged, which seems to be the mantra of the State Attorney’s Office these days,” Cornely said.
In May, prosecutors charged Miami-Dade Police Officer Alejandro Giraldo with tackling a woman who had been the victim of an assault. He is awaiting trial.
Also awaiting trial in unrelated cases: Miami-Dade Sgt. Manuel Regueiro, accused of slapping a handcuffed suspect, and Miami-Dade Officer Gustavo de los Rios, accused of kicking a handcuffed teen suspect. Another cop, Miami Officer Mario Figueroa, was accused of kicking at a handcuffed suspect — but a judge acquitted him at trial.
Miami-Dade prosecutors earlier this year secured a conviction against Miami Officer Lester Bohnenblust, who roughed up a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
As for Brown, he has been a Homestead police booking officer since November 2007. He is in charge of processing and transporting inmates from the South Miami-Dade city to the county jails.
Brown is currently suing the city for discrimination, alleging that he has been passed over for a promotion to patrol officer for years. The reason, he alleges in court papers: he is missing two fingers on his left hand. The lawsuit is ongoing, according to the court docket.
The officer has been in trouble for using excessive force before.
According to civil court documents, in September 2016, Brown slapped a woman who was sitting down and handcuffed inside the police station. He claimed she was about to headbutt him.
But video surveillance “did not capture any threatening moves” by the woman, according to a document filed by a city in the lawsuit. The police department tried firing Brown, but an arbitrator awarded him his job back, saying he deserved a second chance despite the unwarranted slap. Brown was given an eight-month suspension instead.
In the latest case, the victim was Jose Trinidad Garcia Alvarado, 50, a migrant worker who had been arrested for disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence.
That day, Garcia was transported to Homestead police headquarters for booking. Shirtless, his hands handcuffed behind his back, he was led into the station, where Brown worked as a booking officer.
“He shoved Garcia head first into a concrete wall,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a press conference; she was joined by Homestead Police Chief Alexander Rolle.
Video surveillance, the key evidence in the case, shows that Garcia’s face smashed into the wall, and he fell dazed to the ground. He suffered a large cut above the left eye, which was later closed with surgical glue by paramedics.
Brown’s attorney, Cornely, said the officer was justified in pushing the inmate because the man was drunk, unruly and appeared to be about to attack.
“From the get-go, he was uncooperative,” Cornely told the Miami Herald on Wednesday morning.
Brown later wrote in a report that Garcia was poised “in an attempt to attack” and “fell forward” in hitting the wall. Prosecutors charged him with official misconduct, saying the report was false.
“We believe the video does not support the allegation that Garcia struggled with the officer,” Fernandez Rundle said.
Brown was jailed briefly on Wednesday, but was released after posting bond.
The case took time to file because Garcia could not be found — he is an undocumented migrant worker. He has since returned to South Florida and is cooperating with authorities.
Rolle, the police chief, said the victim’s legal status makes no difference in the case.
“He’s a human being first,” Rolle said.