MIAMI – Before a Miami Beach police officer’s trial opening statements started on Thursday in Miami-Dade County court, the judge had to deal with whether or not a fearful witness was going to testify against Officer Kevin Perez, who is facing a charge of third-degree felony battery.
The reluctant witness was Dalonta Crudup, who is the victim in the case and met with his public defenders to discuss the risks since he has three open cases. In Miami-Dade, Crudup is facing a charge of fleeing and eluding police before the arrest that Perez was involved in. The other two unrelated pending cases are in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alberto Milian, who is presiding over the case stemming from Crudup’s 2021 arrest while he was visiting Miami Beach from Maryland, said it would be up to him to decide. Crudup eventually opted to testify even though he wasn’t able to exercise his Fifth Amendment right.
Lt. Jose Reina, who pointed a gun at Crudup after catching up to him, and Crudup testified after a jury of four men and four women, including two alternates, listened to the opening statements. Prosecutors asked them to “listen and look at the evidence” and Perez’s defense asked the jury to watch how Crudup “escalated the confrontation” during his arrest.
“This case flips justice on its head: Bad is good and good is bad. The bad guy is the victim and the good officer is being prosecuted,” Attorney Robert Buschel, who is representing Perez, said during his opening statement.
Surveillance videos on July 26, 2021, show Crudup, then 24, riding his scooter down an alley in South Beach and officers following him before his arrest at the nearby Royal Palm Hotel, at 1545 Collins Ave., for running over an officer on a bicycle with his scooter on Ninth Street and Ocean Court, according to prosecutors.
The injured officer needed a brace and crutches, police said.
Police officers also arrested Khalid Vaughn, 28, of New York, while he recorded Crudup’s arrest, which Miami-Dade County prosecutors later said included kicks and slamming Crudup’s head against the ground.
Police officers also arrested Sharif Cobb, 27, of New York, while he recorded Vaughn’s arrest. Officers arrested Vaughn and Cobb because of a local law that bans bystanders from standing within 20 feet of officers with the “intent to impede, provoke or harass.”
Miami-Dade County prosecutors later dropped the charges against Vaughn and Cobb and charged Perez and four other police officers involved in the Royal Palm Hotel arrests. During her opening statement, Assistant State Attorney Sandra Miller-Batiste said a video shows Perez kicking Crudup, picking him up while he was already in handcuffs, and dropping him on his face.
“[Crudup] was not bleeding until he got slammed. He busted his chin and needed stitches,” Miller-Batiste said in court.
Aside from Perez, prosecutors also initially charged police officers Jose Perez, who is not related to Perez; Robert Sabater; David Rivas; and Steven Serrano with misdemeanors and later upgraded the cases to felonies. The department suspended them without pay.
Officer Kevin Perez and Sgt. Jose Perez took turns striking and kicking Crudup, according to prosecutors. Sabater tackled Vaughn and Rivas and Serrano punched him, according to prosecutors.
Last year, Sgt. Jose Perez, who had faced one count of third-degree felony battery, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to six months of probation before announcing his retirement.
Crudup was testifying Thursday afternoon when the court reporter reported an equipment malfunction, so they adjourned for the night and the trial will resume at 11 a.m., on Friday, at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, in Allapattah.
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