Internal documents show Fort Lauderdale police officer has history of altercations with homeless

Witness: 'He just flat-out hit him'

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Fort Lauderdale police officer seen threatening and slapping a sitting homeless man at the central bus terminal in a video that has been seen across the country has had numerous run-ins with the homeless in the past, according to newly released documents from the police department.

Officer Victor Ramirez, who is on paid leave pending the results of internal and criminal investigations, was accused of an eerily similar incident in August 2012 in which a woman complained that he struck another homeless man in the shoulder while trying to remove him from the same bus terminal. Vera Brown said she was so disgusted by what she saw she filed a complaint with the police department.

"He just flat-out hit him," said Brown. "I told him I was going to file a complaint on him and he said he doesn't care."

She called to complain and said that the officer who responded "told me basically I should mind my own business." She said that made her angrier and she filed a formal complaint with the Office of Internal Affairs. She said that other witnesses at the bus terminal were scared to come forward and told her that the officer had acted that way before.

"I figured if no one else was going to do it I would have to do it," she said of filing the complaint. "God put me there for a reason, to see this."

The reports indicate that it wasn't until nine days later that investigators attempted to obtain surveillance video of the incident from Broward County Transit, but it had already been taped over.

"Despite numerous messages being left (with Broward County Transit manager Craig Collins), including one with the date and time of the incident, Mr. Collins reported the video was not available as it had been taped over," investigators wrote.

Ramirez told officers that the homeless man, Thomas Finn, wouldn't let go of a hand railing forcing him to hit her. Brown says now that Finn was handcuffed when Ramirez hit him.

"If he doesn't like homeless people that's his problem," she said Friday. "They are human beings also."

There are numerous documented incidents in which Ramirez used physical force -- on homeless people and others involved in loitering cases -- and all were found not to be in violation of departmental rules.

The documents, which were first obtained by the Broward New Times, show that Ramirez has on several occasions shoved suspects -- something he is also seen doing on the recent video to homeless Bruce LeClair -- and using "arm bars" and "hands techniques" to bring them in compliance. At least half dozen times of those times came while he was working off-duty detail at the bus terminal.

One example came in 2008 when Ramirez while working an off-duty detail was arresting a woman named Merica Goetz, who he claimed was loitering on the property.

"Ofc. Ramirez ordered her to leave and she refused prompting Ofc. Ramirez to take her into custody," investigators wrote. "Ms. Goetz resisted his efforts causing him to use an arm bar take down technique which subdued her long enough for him to arrest her."

Another came in 2009, when Ramirez took down a panhandling man named Rasheed Woodward at the bus terminal for trespassing, according to the documents. Ramirez claimed that Woodward tried to pull away from him.

"Officer Ramirez grabbed him by the hair and arm and took him to the ground," according to the report."

In another incident, Ramirez claimed that a man named Jerquian Brown was loitering at the bus terminal so he decided to give him a verbal warning not to trespass. Ramirez claimed Brown tried to leave the terminal before he was able to finish warning him about the trespass.

"Ofc. Ramirez grabbed Brown's arm and advised he was not free to leave," an investigator wrote. "Brown squared up to Ofc. Ramirez and clenched both fists as he assumed a fighting stance. Ofc. Ramirez pushed Brown into a wall to created distance and ordered him to the ground. He refused to obey the commands. Ramirez grabbed Brown by the head and pushed him to the ground. He was then placed into custody."

In another incident at the bus terminal, he used an "arm-bar technique" to take down a man who returned to the bus station after a trespass warning. Ramirez claimed he "immediately took him to the ground upon sight in order to avoid a fight."

The records indicate that Ramirez shocked one handcuffed trespassing suspect from the bus terminal in the back of a patrol car after he kicked a window out. 

When he was trespassing a man named David Tyner from a gas station, again while working an off-duty detail, Ramirez claimed that Tyner challenged him to a fight.

"Officer Ramirez had to eventually take Mr. Tyner to the ground and strike him in the arm to gain compliance," wrote investigators.

While the internal and criminal investigations continue into his threatening, shoving down, and slapping of LeClair that was caught on video Ramirez remains on paid leave.

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