Florida police officer suspended for pushing kneeling woman
FORT LAUDERDALE (AP) — Fort Lauderdale police suspended an officer after video showed he pushed a kneeling black woman to the ground during protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, escalating a clash where bottles where bottles were thrown and tear gas was fired.
The officer’s colleagues quickly pushed him away from the woman and down the street Sunday. Police and city officials said it happened as a peaceful demonstration attended by about 1,000 people was dispersing, and smaller groups broke some store windows and sprayed graffiti.
Police Chief Rick Maglione said Monday that Officer Steven Pohorence pushed the woman as he and other officers moved in to rescue one colleague who had become surrounded and another from a patrol car that people began jumping on.
Maglione said Poherence’s actions will be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before an internal investigation is conducted.
Maglione said he understands why some believe the shove provoked the crowd to throw bottles, but he said there were people in the crowd with bricks, bottles, fireworks and other weapons who were hoping to start a fight with officers.
“I don’t think (Poherence’s) action created what occurred … we were in the process of an officer rescue that turned into another officer rescue,” the chief said. But he said Poherence’s actions “could have added to what was going on,” and he commended the officer who pushed Poherence away from the woman.
“She did what you are supposed to do: When you see either adrenaline or emotion or some kind of interaction going south … that is our job to do, is intervene,” he said.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he felt the Poherence’s actions were “offensive,” and he’s happy the department has suspended him.
“I thought that was something that should have never happened,” the mayor said.
Demonstrator Samantha Sweeting Davis said she didn’t see the shove, but heard yelling, then saw about six police cars arrive with their sirens on. Then she saw water bottles being thrown at the officers, heard an explosion, and felt tear gas burn her eyes and throat.
“The job of the police is first and foremost to protect and serve, yet there is a culture of mistrust and doubt. In a protest designed to speak to that, to see a cop do the opposite is almost too on the nose. It is so upsetting,” the 29-year-old high school counselor from Fort Lauderdale said.
“Suspension is a great first step, but honestly I want to see the officer de-badged. If this is your impulse when you are in a situation that frustrates you, to push a woman on her knees, then you are in the wrong profession,” she said.
The Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents the city’s officers, had no immediate comment Monday.
Elsewhere in Florida, mostly peaceful protests were held throughout the state over the weekend, but some Miami police cars were burned and store fronts damaged. That led Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to postpone the reopening of the county’s beaches, which had been scheduled to reopen Monday for the first time since March when they were closed to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
In Orlando, Police Chief Orlando Rolon said Monday that officers had to fire tear gas Sunday night after some demonstrators started throwing objects found at a highway construction site.
“Some individuals from the group decided to throw rocks and bottles, anything they could find that was debris along the I-4 area where construction is going on, they were throwing at the officers,” Rolon said at a news conference. “At that point, officers had to deploy gas.” Some members of the group then threw tire-like weights over the side of the highway onto a road below and blocked eastbound traffic. Officers used tear gas on them again. He said his officers made 30 arrests Sunday night, including some who broke into stores.
At one point during Sunday’s protests, Rolon and Orange County Sheriff John Mina knelt in solidarity with protesters outside the Orlando Police Department headquarters.
In Tampa on Monday, six members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity prayed outside two businesses, Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant and Champs Sports, that were destroyed by arson on Saturday.
“The people that did the destruction, most aren’t from this place,” Pastor James Gallon said. “Then they leave and drive away on the interstate and all that negativity comes to the people who live here.”