Miami Beach Police Found Guilty of Excessive Use of Force on Tourist

March 11, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Getting into an encounter with the police is already a heightened situation. Circumstances where officers use force while apprehending a suspect often raise questions about the rights and ethics regarding the scenario. While law enforcement is given the right to use force in certain situations, at what point is it too far? In one recent case in Miami, several police officers were charged with battery after using excessive force against a suspect.

One of the officers has just been given a guilty verdict by the jury. This page will cover the case details along with relative information regarding dealing with the police, battery charges in Florida, and justifiable use of force.

What was the Incident?

On July 26th, 2021, Dalonta Crudup was riding a scooter he rented while visiting Miami Beach. The 26-year-old allegedly hit an officer with the vehicle, which caused him to try and run away from the police. A surveillance camera captured Crudup as he parked the scooter illegally and ran inside the Royal Palm Hotel.

Only seconds later a police officer ran after him into the elevator while holding a gun. The surveillance video footage shows Crudup lying on the ground on his stomach, with his hands behind his back. In a matter of minutes, more than a dozen officers arrived at the scene.

“At this point the situation begins to change,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

After Crudup was already in handcuffs and on the ground, the video showed one of the officers kicking the suspect in the head. One officer, Kevin Perez, was seen on camera kicking and slamming Crudup.

Khalid Vaughn, 28, was also arrested and taken into custody for recording the incident. During his video, the officer is seen saying, “back up,” before the officer ran after and tackled Vaughn. One of the other officer’s bodycam videos depicts the officer delivering blows to Vaughn as well.

Vaughn was initially charged with obstruction but was later dropped. After bonding out of jail Vaughn told 7News, “[An officer] punched me, elbowed me in the face. I literally got jumped by officers.”

After the videos were released, five of the Miami Beach Police officers were charged with the rough arrest and were relieved of their duty. Fernandez Rundle announced the charges against Sgt. Jose Perez, along with officers Kevin Perez, Robert Sabater, Steven Serrano, and David Rivas. All five officers were charged with simple battery at first. Officer Kevin Perez was later charged with aggravated battery

“It was unfathomable. It’s unspeakable. It’s just inexcusable,” said Fernandez Rundle.

The following is a statement from Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements:

“I’m disappointed that this is out there, and it depicts our department in the manner that it does when I know we are much better than that…This is by no means at all a reflection of the dedicated men and women of the Miami Beach Police Department. Moving forward, I can tell you that my staff and I promise you, as individuals and as an agency, we will learn from this, and we will grow from this, and we will do better. This is not what you see from officers.”

Charges Lessened After Expert Witness Testimony

The trial for officer Kevin Perez began in early March 2023. On the fourth day, Vaughn took the stand as a witness to Crudup’s aggressive arrest.

“Officers came after him and kept hitting him,” Vaughn said on the stand. “Different forms of striking, punching, and kicking.”

Although Vaughn was also struck by officers after filming the incident, his experience was kept from the jury. The jury was only able to hear what happened to Crudup during the arrest.

Prior to the defense calling up their witness, Judge Alberto Millian ruled that Perez would no longer be facing a felony battery charge. The judge dropped the charge to a simple battery offense, which is considered a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida.

“I don’t think you proved the felony battery,” Judge Millian said. “I think the State failed to prove that there was great bodily harm, disability, or permanent disfigurement.”

One of the main factors in the judge’s decision was due to the expert witness from Mount Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Ramin Vejdani provided testimony regarding Crudup’s medical exam after going to the hospital for the incident. According to the doctor, Crudup did not suffer any serious bodily injuries such as broken bones or fractures. However, Crudup did receive six stitches on the chin.

Guilty Verdict

After the judge’s decision to lessen the charge to simple battery, the defense called up several police officers to the stand. Officer Steven Felman testified that he had been writing a ticket for Crudup’s illegal parking job with the scooter. Felman claimed that Crudup was dismissive and then fled from the scene.

However, when Crudup took the stand himself, he claimed that the police never clarified that he was being given a ticket or that the police wanted to arrest him. After two hours of deliberation on March 8th, 2023, the jury found Officer Kevin Perez guilty of battery.

Once the verdict was read, Perez was seen shaking his head, along with his family in the back of the courtroom who also looked surprised at the outcome. Perez’s attorney claimed they would be appealing the decision. The sentencing date for Perez is set for April 21st, 2023. Perez has been suspended from the Miami Beach Police and will be required to undergo a disciplinary process.

The following is a statement from Fernandez Rundle after the guilt verdict:

“Today’s jury verdict finding officer Kevin Perez guilty of battery is a clear statement against the use of excessive force in making an arrest. The jurors clearly weighed all the evidence, including the hotel video, before concluding that Perez’s actions were a violation of Florida law.”

Justifiable Use of Force

Law enforcement officers in Florida have the right to use force in specific instances. Under Florida Statute Section 776.05, the law explains that an officer, or anyone that the officer has directed to assist him, does not need to retreat or desist from the efforts to make a lawful arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance, and is justified to use any force during the following scenarios:

  • If the officer has reason to believe using force is necessary to defend themselves or another person from bodily harm while making the arrest;
  • If the person in question was a felon who has escaped and the police need to retake them into custody; or
  • If the person in question is fleeing from justice while police are attempting to arrest them.

However, this last subsection dealing with a fleeing person states that the above reasons do not constitute a defense in any civil action for damages for officers who have wrongfully used deadly force. Unless such force was necessary for the arrest and, if possible, some warning was given. Also, the officer needs to have either (1) reason to believe that the suspect is a threat to others, or (2) reason to believe that they are fleeing from a crime which has caused serious harm to another.

The Police Brutality Center explains that Excessive force is defined as the force beyond what an officer has reason to use to question or apprehend a person. Officers may be liable for using excessive force during an arrest, investigatory stop, or other procedures. Officers may also be held accountable for not preventing another officer from using excessive force. A jury must determine whether a police officer had reason to use excessive force at the time of action.

In recent years, excessive use of force by law enforcement has become a serious issue that has been the subject of discussion in Florida and across our nation. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), in 2019 there was a total of 3,997 incidents of use of force which was reported by law enforcement agencies. Out of those incidents, 88 of them resulted in injuries either to the suspect or to the officer. However, the report did not make note of how many of the incidents involved excessive force, nor how many officers were convicted of using excessive force.

One important thing to note is that the process of investigating and prosecuting police officers is complex, and often involves multiple factors. This can include:

  • The availability of evidence
  • The discretion of prosecutors
  • The outcomes of internal investigations by law enforcement agencies

Even in instances where police have reason to believe that the use of force is necessary, there is also a line between what is an acceptable force versus what can result in criminal charges.

Battery Charges in Florida

When a person causes bodily harm to another person, they may be charged with the crime of battery. Florida Statute Section 784.03 explains that battery occurs when a person:

  • Has intentionally touched or hit another person against their will; or
  • Intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.

Proving a charge for simple battery by the prosecution normally comes down to statements by the victim, any witnesses such as the police who might have been called to the scene, and any evidence of the harm caused to the victim such as pictures or visits to a hospital.

A simple battery charge is considered a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor are up to $1,000 in fines and up to one year in jail. However, the penalties become more severe if the defendant is charged with aggravated battery.

Aggravated battery is defined under Florida Statute Section 784.045 as when a person, while committing battery:

  • Intentionally and knowingly causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement;
  • Uses a deadly weapon during the battery offense; or
  • The victim of the battery offense was pregnant at the time and the defendant should have known that the victim was pregnant.

An aggravated battery charge is considered a second-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a second-degree felony are up to $10,000 in fines and up to 15 years in prison.

How to Deal with Police Encounters

Getting pulled over or confronted by the police is clearly a stressful situation. Even if the suspected person did nothing illegal, seeing the blue and red lights or being surrounded by officers will cause anyone some form of anxiety. However, it is important to always remember your rights when dealing with the police. Law enforcement officers are there to do just that—enforce the law. Yet, there is a way to do so without using excessive use of force.

If you have been stopped by the police, it is imperative that you remember the following rights:

  • The right to remain silent;
  • The right to deny consent to a search; and
  • The right to an attorney.

If questioned by the police, always invoke your rights before escalating the situation. However, a police encounter is not the time to litigate your rights. Meaning, if the police violate any of your rights, any statements or incriminating evidence can be suppressed later due to the police violations in a court of law. To read further on police encounters, escalations, and what to do when you believe your rights have been violated, find our blog post here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or someone you know has had an incident with a police officer in which you believe your rights were violated, it is extremely important to reach out to an attorney. While law enforcement has every right to enforce the law, they are still responsible to do so in a way that is not excessively aggressive toward others. As seen in the example case above, it is not completely uncommon for officers to be convicted of battery after using excessive force.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have worked with clients across Florida for various offenses. We aim to provide the best criminal defense in Tallahassee and its surrounding areas. If you are in need of legal guidance, we vow to be there for you. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today and receive a free consultation regarding your case. Call us at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Back to Top