FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Fort Lauderdale police have identified Steven Pohorence as the officer seen on video shoving a female protester who was kneeling on the ground as tensions rose Sunday night downtown.
Pohorence has been suspended with pay while an investigation takes place, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and Chief of Police Rick Maglione said.
Pohorence has been a member of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department since October 2016, and prior to that, he spent almost four years working for the Florida Highway Patrol.
“That officer has been removed from any contact with the public,” Maglione said. “He is relieved from duty, basically, while this matter is investigated.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will conduct an initial criminal investigation, Maglione said. Fort Lauderdale police will then do an administrative investigation.
The video that can be seen here was obtained by Local 10 News’ Jeff Weinsier from a protester.
It shows a female protester on her knees demonstrating. Pohorence appears to push her in the back or in the head, toward the pavement, as he walks past.
Other officers then push that officer away as protesters throw items in his direction. Krystal Smith has been identified as the officer who stepped in immediately and appeared to admonish Poherence while moving him away from the situation.
“While it wasn’t resulting in injury, it obviously needs to be looked into,” Maglione said. “If disciplinary action needs to be taken, it will. And it will be swift and corrective in nature.
“I also want to commend the other officers that were there for identifying there was an issue rather quickly and separating the parties,” Maglione continued. “And that’s what they should do when they see something that they don’t feel is right, or an interaction that they feel is going south.”
This happened as what had been a peaceful protest in Fort Lauderdale turned contentious outside a parking garage at SE 2nd Street and SE 1st Avenue near the Broward County Main Library.
Maglione said multiple officers had requested help in that area before the incident involving Poherence took place. One officer, he said, had her car jumped on and its windows broken while she was in it.
Asked if he thinks Poherence’s actions escalated the situation, the chief said: “It could have added to what was already going on.”
Police used tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd gathered there. Fort Lauderdale police said that damage was done to some of their vehicles.
Deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office came in to assist Fort Lauderdale police.
Asked Monday what he thought when he first saw the video, Trantalis said, “I thought it was offensive. I thought that never should have happened.”
“I understand the state attorney has opened a file to make sure we get to the bottom of this,” Trantalis added, “and if it is determined by those agencies that something was wrong, we will follow with a swift disciplinary action.”
Fort Lauderdale and Broward County both declared a state of emergency and set a 9 p.m. curfew on Sunday night. The city and county will have another curfew from 9 p.m. Monday night until 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale protest got underway peacefully at Huizenga Park, with organizations Black Lives Matter and Dream Defenders bringing the group together at 3 p.m.
The protests are in response to George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last week.
Mounted police have moved in and told crowd to disperse pic.twitter.com/CVtNhBweue— Jeff Weinsier (@jweinsierWPLG) June 1, 2020
“After a peaceful march where we honored the life of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor ... needless violence erupted between police and attendees nearly two hours after we ended,” state Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said in a statement. “This is exactly what we were there to speak out against. Initial reports and video footage are both disturbing. I urge everyone to go home and depart in the spirit that the peaceful protest ended in.”
As part of the demonstration earlier Sunday afternoon, protesters gathered outside the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Broward Boulevard.
Fort Lauderdale police said they did not know that the protest was going to take place in the city until around 1 p.m. A gathering had previously been called for Lauderhill but moved.