Public defender calls for action against Sunrise sergeant who grabbed officer’s throat

Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes wants to know why there hasn’t been discipline two months after a Sunrise police sergeant was recorded on bodycam video grabbing the throat of a young female officer.

SUNRISE, Fla. – The video is shocking, showing a police sergeant grab an officer by the neck. He hasn’t been charged and remains under investigation, but Broward County’s public defender is asking where is the accountability?

It’s been two months since Sgt. Christopher Pullease, a 21-year veteran of the Sunrise Police Department, was captured on police bodyworn camera video putting his hands on an officer’s throat.

That officer, a woman, has only been on the job for a little more than two years. She was trying to intervene and de-escalate a tense situation involving Pullease during an arrest.

When she tried to jump in, the video shows her grabbing Pullease by the belt, pulling him backward, and he then turned and grabbed her by the neck while pushing her backward toward a patrol car.

Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes wants to know why there hasn’t been discipline in two months’ time.

“If you or I or anyone would engage in that type of conduct, the officers that observe that conduct would have arrested us right there on-site immediately, and this officer gets to sit at a desk while they investigate,” Weekes said.

Sunrise Police Chief Anthony Rosa released a statement on Friday praising the officer who tried to intervene while saying Pullease’s actions were inappropriate. He ordered an internal affairs investigation and has relieved the sergeant of his supervisory responsibilities.

Weekes believes that’s not enough.

“There is a time for a careful deliberation and there is a time to act,” he said. “This is a time to act.”

Criminal defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich, who has represented officers in the past, says not all video is created equal and that it shouldn’t be the only evidence looked at.

“Just because what you see on the video doesn’t mean that’s the whole story,” Schwartzreich said. “Things have to be put in context. Could this be crime? Could be. We have to know what happened.”

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 80 and the chief have sent letters to each other regarding the handling of the case in the public. The FOP accused Rosa of making false statements to the media.

“Chief Rosa has clearly already made up his mind as to the outcome of the investigation before the investigation has even been thoroughly completed and before the Sergeant has even been able to provide his side of the story,” the lodge said in its letter Monday. “Chief Rosa’s conduct was unprofessional and unbecoming and embarrassing to our professional law enforcement agency. Furthermore, his actions/statements are in clear violation of the Sergeant’s procedural and substantive due process rights and his own departmental policy and procedures.”

Rosa wrote in his response Tuesday: “As you are aware, it is the responsibility of the Chief of Police to ensure that the City of Sunrise community has full faith and confidence in our ability to provide professional and transparent policing. This responsibility is not only to the residents of Sunrise but also to the men and women of our police department. It is also the responsibility of the Chief of Police to ensure that all Department members are protected against workplace violence that includes both physical and emotional attacks.”

Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan said the images are disturbing while praising the efforts of the young officer.

Local 10 News has also reached out to the chief to get his thoughts on this evolving story and he declined to comment, referring to his statements sent out last week.

About the Author:

Sanela Sabovic joined Local 10 News in September 2012 as an assignment editor and associate producer. In August 2015, she became a full-time reporter and fill-in traffic reporter. Sanela holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in radio, television and film from DePaul University.