The Miami Beach Police Department says it is investigating footage released by one of its own officers showing a fellow officer sucker-punching an unarmed black man at a restaurant Dec. 3.
The video shows a man sitting a table before getting up and walking around a menu stand near where some officers are gathered. Someone can be heard saying, "Watch yourself, dog." The man approaches one of the officers and says, "What, what?" The officer is then seen grabbing him and violently punching him, and the man falls to the ground.
The video doesn't show what led up to the encounter. According to a police report obtained by the Miami Herald, officers were called to the restaurant because the man was acting irate, refusing to leave and yelling expletives at two women.
CBS Miami identified the officer seen in the video as Adriel Dominguez. The Miami Herald identified the person who was punched as 35-year-old Lowell Poitier, a homeless man from Orlando who had a string of arrests and domestic violence charges in the Jacksonville area.
In a statement Wednesday, Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said it was "obviously a very serious matter." He said he directed his internal affairs unit to immediately launch an investigation, notified the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office and relieved the officer of his patrol duties.
The video was provided by attorney Michael Pizzi, who represents another officer, Frederick Dominguez, who wasn't on the scene and isn't related to the officer involved in the incident.
Pizzi said his client wanted to go public with the video because the incident occurred in front of multiple other officers more than a week ago, none of whom reported it.
"It is shocking and horrible that in this day and age a citizen could be brutally assaulted like this in broad daylight on Miami Beach and nobody did anything about it," said Pizzi, who has requested whistleblower protection for his client, in a statement. "My client is a brave police officer who is standing up for justice for the citizens the police are supposed to protect."
Miami Beach police did not immediately respond to a request from CBS News for a copy of the original police report. Pizzi, who has seen the report, said it contradicts the video and amounts to a "bold-faced lie." According to the Miami Herald, the report says the man called the officers "crackers," acted agitated and "appeared as if he wanted to challenge" one of the officers. It says the man said, "what, what," and then "clenched his fist, took a fighting stance and leaned into" the officer's face, and the officer struck the man with his fist because he feared for his safety.
The video, however, appears to show the officer pulling the man towards him with his left hand before violently striking him.
Pizzi said his client believes the department puts pressure on him and other officers to be aggressive, and said he doesn't trust internal affairs to handle the investigation. Pizzi said he's calling on the U.S. attorney's office and the state attorney's office to independently investigate.
In a statement, Miami Beach city manager Jimmy Morales said "mistreatment of anyone by our police officers is unacceptable."
"I have full faith and confidence in our police department to complete a thorough investigation into this matter to determine what happened," Morales said.
The Herald reports Poitier suffered a cut lip and was treated at a hospital. He was charged with misdemeanor assault on a police officer, resisting arrest without violence and disorderly conduct, and has since been released on bond. The paper was unable to reach him for comment.
for more features.