Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione has been removed from his position nearly six weeks after a member of his SWAT team shot a peaceful Black Lives Matter protester in the face with a foam rubber bullet, as other officers laughed and joked about firing potentially lethal weapons at civilians.  Maj. Frank Sousa told the Miami Herald “The chief is not relieved of duty. He will remain a member of our organization in a position to be determined.” Assistant Chief Karen Dietrich will serve as acting chief.

Officer fault.

LaToya Ratlieff, the protester who was shot in the face, has brought national attention to her ordeal and to policing practices in Fort Lauderdale. An internal affairs investigation was initiated against Eliezer Ramos, the officer who said that he shot Ratlieff accidentally while attempting to fire at a man hurling a tear gas canister back at officers. Department policy states officers should not fire rubber bullets at the head unless they have been authorized to use deadly force. Excessive force and the use of firearms can negatively impact relationships between police and the communities they serve, along with other forms of police brutality including racial and gender bias-based profiling, sexual abuse/harassment, false arrest, and illegal search and seizure activities.

Incidence of excessive force.

While many officers disapprove of the use of excessive force, a substantial minority of officers feel that they should be permitted to use more force then the law allows and a large percentage agreed that following the rule of law is sometimes counterproductive to effectively protecting the communities they serve. During peaceful protests, several people state they were hit in the eye by rubber bullets, claiming officers were not properly trained on the use of such devices, and that tear gas, pepper balls and flashbangs should not have been used on peaceful crowds.

Rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets are intended to be a relatively harmless crowd-control technique, but they can be extremely harmful, leading to fractures, severe skin injury, blindness, and death, as demonstrated during protests surrounding the death of George Floyd.  Sometimes the “rubber” bullets are not completely made of rubber and are made of another material like steel and coated in rubber.  Law enforcement professionals use them to disperse crowds to minimize harm, and their weight and shape allow them to lose velocity quickly so they do not break the skin, and were meant to be shot at protective muscle and fat portions of a person to be less damaging, leaving only bruises.  The police did not use rubber bullets appropriately, while shooting them at close range and causing significant damage to protestors’ eyes, facial structures, foreheads, and other sensitive regions of their body.

Accountability.

Police must be held accountable, even when they must act under often tense and volatile situations, to maintain actions of a “reasonable person” while apprehending a suspect. Officers must perform their duties under these intense hazardous conditions with all eyes upon them, leaving no margin for error in judgment, as they strive to preserve peace as the end goal to their prescribed mission. The action to remove the Fort Lauderdale Police Chief is a step in the right direction toward department accountability.  If you, or someone you love has been a victim of any form of police brutality, seek legal counsel to discuss a potential case for damages to address any undue harm.

Sources:

https://www.insider.com/why-rubber-bullets-dangerous-what-to-do-if-hit-2020-6

https://www.flpd.org/about-flpd/office-of-the-chief/internal-affairs

https://www.flpd.org/home/showdocument?id=4059