Jury acquits Miami-Dade police sergeant accused of battery for kicking handcuffed teen

Jurors on Thursday night acquitted a Miami-Dade police sergeant who was charged with battery for kicking a handcuffed teenager lying on the ground.

Sgt. Gustavo de los Rios was charged with misdemeanor battery for the kick on a teen burglary suspect, David Brown, outside a Northwest Miami-Dade cash-advance store on Feb. 14, 2018.

De los Rios is one in a string of South Florida police officers who have been charged in recent months for using force on suspects in the line of duty. The cases have been filed against the backdrop of increased scrutiny on the tactics of police officers, particularly when dealing with African-American men.

So far, the results in the Miami-Dade cases have been mixed.

In April, a judge acquitted Miami Officer Mario Figueroa for kicking at a handcuffed suspect after a foot chase through Overtown. A few months later, a jury convicted Miami Officer Lester Bohnenblust for tossing a nurse to the ground at Jackson Memorial Hospital; Bohnenblust was sentenced to 45 days in jail.

A few others are awaiting trial, including a Miami-Dade police sergeant charged with slapping a handcuffed suspect, and a Homestead officer accused of pushing a handcuffed man’s head into a wall inside the police station. Both incidents were captured on video.

De los Rios, who is Hispanic, was charged after a bystander video recorded the arrest of Brown, a 17-year-old African American, outside a cash-advance store in Northwest Miami-Dade. At the time, Brown was wanted on a burglary charge, and began scuffling with Miami-Dade police officers who tried to take him into custody.

Brown was shot with a Taser stun gun during the confrontation.

De los Rios insisted he was only trying to lawfully corral Brown, who was spitting at the officers. Defense lawyer David Rothman called Brown a “violent criminal” who punched and kicked de los Rios.

“A police officer can’t be charged, and certainly can’t be convicted, for doing his job,” Rothman said.

But Miami-Dade prosecutors said Brown wasn’t spitting, and was already subdued and not moving on the ground when de los Rios kicked him in the face, then dropped his knee on the teen’s neck.

“Once the cuffs were on, there was no justifiable reason why he had to kick that young man in the face,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Sandra Miller-Batiste told jurors. They deliberated about an hour before reaching a decision to acquit de los Rios.