MIAMI, Fla. – The officer who has been relieved of duty pending an investigation into video of him allegedly beating a homeless man inside a Miami Publix was investigated for a similar incident two years ago, Local 10 News has learned.
The officer in the video is Alexander Garcia-Contreras. John Veiga tells Local 10 News he had an encounter with Garcia-Contreras in 2019.
“He goes, ‘Put your hands behind your back. You’re getting in trouble,’ and he hits me in the side of head,” said Veiga, who filed a complaint against Garcia-Contreras in 2019.
According to an arrest report from that night, Garcia-Contreras was working an off-duty detail at a Wynwood club and saw an altercation between Veiga and a security guard. The report said that Garcia-Contreras punched Veiga twice in the face while trying to take him into custody.
“If you’re an officer, you can courteously punch somebody. But if you’re a civilian, that’s battery,” Veiga said.
Internal affairs investigated and found that officer Garcia-Contreras had acted discourteously, but whether or not he faced any sort of discipline is unclear.
Now, in 2021, Garcia-Contreras is once again under investigation for a video that shows him punching Willie Barbor who allegedly stole chicken from a Miami Publix.
Reportedly when Garcia-Contreras tried taking Barbor to an office inside the Publix, he tensed up. The report from the incident stated: “Officer Garcia-Contreras attempted to grab the defendant by the arm. However, the defendant started tensing up, pushing his hands away from the officer.”
It was then, the report says that, the officer “re-directed the defendant to the floor and gave him a couple of distractionary strikes to gain the defendant’s compliance.”
City of Miami Police Department Chief, Art Acevedo, said Thursday: “That involved employee has been placed on, relieved of duty and there’s an investigation ongoing. We’re going to make our assessments and then we’ll report back to the community what the findings are and what the consequences are.”
Assistant Director of the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), Rodney Jacobs said the incident provides an opportunity to reflect on how the community handles public safety.
“We have an incident in this case that allows us to do some introspection and say, ‘I want to be proactive about this, I don’t want this to happen again.’ We need to be thinking about things that don’t require police to police away all of our issues. I think if you talk to any police chief or sheriff, they will tell you that policing is not the answer for everything.”
He said there is a solution that should be the focus. “In trying to reduce something like this from occurring again, we need to have a public health focus and not a criminal justice focus.”
Garcia-Contreras was hired on Oct. 6, 2015. He has 3 citizen complaints, 1 administrative complaint and has 7 use of force incidents noted, according to a CIP report.
Local 10 News did reach out to the police union in Miami multiple times to include them in this story, but they did not get back to us.