Florida officer suspended after video shows him hitting woman

Elinor Aspegren Morgan Hines USA TODAY
Walton Sun

The director of the Miami-Dade Police Department ordered an investigation Wednesday after video footage posted to social media showed one of its officers punching a Black woman at Miami International Airport.

The video on Twitter shows Anthony Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade police officer, punching Paris Sharon Anderson, a 21-year-old Black woman, after she reportedly caused a disturbance..

In the video, Anderson can be heard addressing Rodriguez, "You're acting like you're white but you're really Black," she said while getting closer to Rodriguez. She asked what he was going to do and then he punched her.

Another officer, Ricardo Alvarez, who is also visible in the footage helped Rodriguez bring Anderson to the ground. Later in the video, Rodriguez can be heard saying Anderson "head-butted" him. Anderson was arrested.

According to the arrest report obtained by USA TODAY, Rodriguez had been dispatched around 8 p.m. Wednesday to the American Airlines rebooking desk at Miami International Airport "due to a disturbance involving a Black female."

As Rodriguez and Alvarez made their way to the area, they were informed by dispatch that Anderson had moved behind the rebooking counter and was threatening employees.

Once there, Alvarez walked Anderson away from the counter and Rodriguez spoke to Jose Roman, the service center supervisor who issued the complaint against Anderson. Roman explained that Anderson had been late to board a flight to Chicago and thus was denied boarding. She was advised to visit the rebooking desk to find a new flight.

Upon learning that there were no available flights until the next day, Anderson became upset, according to the report and tried to go behind the counter to retrieve her boarding pass. When she was told she wasn't allowed to go behind the desk she began to "threaten and curse" employees. Roman told her that she would not be flying on American and that her flight would be reimbursed.

After speaking with Roman, Rodriguez informed Anderson that while she would not be flying on American that she could take a flight with a different airline within the airport. He asked her to gather her things with the intent to escort her away from the area.

Then, Anderson "became belligerent and began to yell obscenities at which time she said, 'I should go over there and punch him in his face,'" referring to Roman, according to the report.

Rodriguez repeated to Anderson that she should gather her things. At that point, according to the report, she "aggressively approached" Rodriguez, and proceeded to bump the officer with her body and hit him on the chin with her head, according to the report. That was when Rodriguez took a step back and "struck Ms. Anderson on her left side of the face with an open hand." After which, she fell stumbled back and was taken to the floor and into custody.

As she was escorted to the patrol vehicle she continued to yell and Rodriguez "felt spittle" coming from her mouth. Anderson was not wearing a face mask or any kind of face covering. While she was yelling "additional spittle" came towards the area of the officers and Rodriguez had to grab her by the hair to keep her facing forward, according to the report.

Miami International Airport, in compliance with Miami-Dade County, does require the use of face masks.

Filmmaker Billy Corben posted some footage of the incident to Twitter on Wednesday night.

"#BREAKING: @MiamiDadePD cop hits woman at Miami International Airport @iflymia #BecauseMiami," Corben wrote. Corben told USA TODAY that he had received the footage from "a source" within local law enforcement.

Within minutes of the video appearing on Twitter, Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez III tweeted too, announcing that he initiated an investigation.

“I am shocked and angered by a body cam video that I just saw involving one our officers," Ramirez said Wednesday in a statement shared with USA TODAY by Angel Rodriguez, a detective with the department.

Ramirez noted that he "immediately initiated" an investigation and had ordered Rodriguez be relieved of duty.

"[Rodriguez] has been employed with MDPD for 31 years," Argemis Colome, a police officer in the MDPD's media unit, told USA TODAY in an email. "Three years as a Public Service Aide, and 28 years as a sworn Law Enforcement Officer."

In his statement, Ramirez added that any officer who acts similarly will be held accountable.

"Actions such as these undermine the hard work that we have invested in our community and causes my heart to break for our community and for the vast majority of our officers who dedicate their lives to serving our County," he said.

Ramirez added that he had spoken with Florida's state attorney, Kathy Fernandez Rundle, and asked that her office become involved with in the investigation.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez also took to Twitter to address what happened.

"This is appalling. It’s excessive use of force and unnecessary. That’s NOT what our @MiamiDadePD are trained to do," he wrote, quoting Ramirez's tweet. "Ramirez has ordered the officer relieved of duty & investigation is underway. This is why I instituted body cameras & MDPD is reviewing all footage."

The incident comes amid protests against police brutality and calls for the defunding the police, spurred by the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

On Tuesday, New York City officials agreed on a budget that shifts roughly $1 billion from its police department. Los Angeles and Philadelphia also cut their police budgets, and many cities have committed to police reform.

This story originally published to usatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.