Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements suspended four officers Monday night after reviewing video that showed them repeatedly punching a man who they claimed was interfering with an arrest. The target of the beating denied that, saying he was merely filming the arrest of another man when police turned on him.
In an unusual move, Clements released a statement to the media Monday night asking state prosecutors to take no action against Khalid Vaughn, 28, who was taken into custody that morning in the lobby of Royal Palm South Beach hotel.
“... I have serious concerns about the force utilized after Mr. Crudup was in custody, including the level of force utilized in the subsequent arrest of Mr. Vaughn,” Clements said in the statement.
The chief also said he had already initiated an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident. Though the video has not yet been released to the public, an arrest report details officers using fists and elbows to strike Vaughn in the head and rib cage.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Spokesman Ed Griffith said Tuesday morning that “based on the chief’s request,” the charges against Vaughn were dropped Tuesday morning. Miami-Dade County records show Vaughn had been released from jail by Tuesday morning.
Vaughn, who couldn’t immediately be reached by the Miami Herald, told WPLG Channel 10 that he was trying to take video of police during the arrest of another man when some officers turned on him.
“I started recording it. They already got him in handcuffs. They beat him, turned around, charged me down, beat me,” Vaughn told the station. “Punched me, elbowed me in the face.”
The incident that ended at the Royal Palm Hotel, 1545 Collins Ave., began a short while earlier on Ocean Court and Ninth Street after Dalonta Crudup, 24, was approached by an officer for illegally parking his scooter, according to Miami Beach police. When Crudup took off he struck a Beach officer with his scooter at Ocean Court and 13th Street, sending the cop to the hospital. Then he nearly hit another officer before abandoning his scooter and running into the hotel, Beach police said.
It was during the arrest of Crudup in the lobby that police became entangled with Vaughn. According to his arrest report, police were forced to subdue Vaughn because he was obstructing the arrest of Crudup.
Four officers said they struck Vaughn during the arrest, the report says: Alvaro Leon used “multiple right elbow strikes to Mr. Vaughn’s facial area.” Officer Robert Sabater struck him on the right side of his face with “approximately four right closed fist strikes.” Officer Steven Serrano delivered several closed fist punches to his “general head area.” And Officer David Rivas hit him in the left rib area with a closed fist.
The report says police gave Vaughn several chances to back off before Serrano wrapped his arms around him and other officers came to assist.
“During the struggle to place Mr. Vaughn into custody, Mr. Vaughn and officers fell to the ground,” police wrote in Vaughn’s arrest report. “Once on the ground, officers are finally able to take control of Mr. Vaughn and forcefully pull his hands behind his back.”
Also Tuesday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she shared the chief’s concerns about the arrest and has appointed senior staff to investigate.
“Excessive force can never be an acceptable foundation for the policing of any community,” the state attorney said.
Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Paul Ozeata warned to let the investigation play out.
“The FOP at this time asks that the police chief, the city and the public keep an open mind and allow the investigation to run its course,” Ozeata said. “The facts of the case will come to light and a rush to judgment should not be made.”
Miami Beach police have not released the names of the officers who were relieved of duty, so it’s not clear if any of the officers who admitted to striking Vaughn were suspended. They also have not released any video of the arrests.
At least two of the officers named in the report are members of a Miami Beach police task force called the Strategic Enhancement Team, created after Spring Break 2020 to quell some of the violence that was plaguing South Beach. Members of the tactical squad are also working as part of Miami-Dade’s Operation Summer Heat, a swarming countywide police presence through August created to tackle an upswing in violent crime throughout the county that began in the spring.
Clements also said his department went Alpha Bravo this weekend in anticipation of crowds and big events, many involving some of the crowd who purchased close to 225,000 tickets for the Rolling Loud event at Dolphins Stadium in Miami Gardens. Alpha Bravo, when all cops are on duty, is used sparingly, generally on Memorial Day weekends or during a Super Bowl.
In an email to staff on June 30, the chief explained how tickets for the event were pre-sold and how staffing by Miami-Dade Police had become an issue. The chief said coupled with the work cops are doing at Surfside and the COVID-19 surge that has hit the department, Clements told staff the department would be on full alert beginning July 23.
“We anticipated heavier crowds and lots of traffic,” said the chief, who wouldn’t speak directly to Monday night’s arrest of Vaughn.
Crudup was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, fleeing and eluding police, aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. He remained jailed Tuesday and his bond was set at $34,500. Vaughn, whose charges were dropped, had been facing charges of resisting arrest with violence and impeding a police investigation.
Four Miami Beach Police officers have been relieved of duty with pay pending an internal investigation into use of force in arrest of two men early Monday morning, Chief Clements says in statement. Police say suspect hit cop with scooter, requiring hospital visit. @MiamiHerald pic.twitter.com/9oCUWp33Vx
— Martin Vassolo (@martindvassolo) July 27, 2021