Florida police officer charged with assault denies kicking suspect in the head

MIAMI, Fla. (CNN) —  Florida prosecutors have charged a Miami police officer they say tried to kick a suspect who was being handcuffed on the ground, in an encounter captured on video.

Mario Figueroa, a two-year veteran of the force, was charged Tuesday with assault, a second-degree misdemeanor, after the cell phone video of the incident surfaced last week.

Related: Florida police officer relieved of duty after he appeared to kick handcuffed man in the head

"Officer Mario Figueroa can have no excuse for the alleged actions seen on the initial videotape," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a new release. "This community demands respect for all individuals taken into custody."

 

 

Police said they were beginning the process of firing the officer.

In a statement, the local Fraternal Order of Police said Figueroa will be exonerated because he never kicked the suspect, but rather was trying to get the man to comply with police commands.

"It is unfortunate that because of social media, Officer Figueroa has been found guilty by some in the public without the proper due process afforded to anyone accused," the statement said.

"While some have characterized this as police brutality, it couldn't be farther from the truth," the FOP said. "The only thing brutal about this entire incident is the suspect that endangered the lives of the community in which our Miami Police Officers risked their lives to take this dangerous man off the streets."

 

 

According to a police report, Miami police had chased the alleged car theft suspect, David Suazo, 31, last Thursday after spotting him driving a blue Jeep Cherokee that a record check showed to be stolen.
Police said they tried to pull the suspect over but he sped away and drove into a residential complex, where he crashed the car and ran away as officer chased him.

Officers said they gave verbal commands but the man cursed at them and took a "fighting stance," according to the police report.

Figueroa deployed a Taser, which was ineffective, according to the report. The man continued to flee.
A witness who shot the cell phone video said she saw the man running around, trying to escape. But he couldn't get away because there was a gate, so he surrendered to police, who told him to lay down, she said.

The witness' cell phone video showed the man -- later identified as Suazo -- lying in a yard with his hands on his head. The first police officer approached him and started to put handcuffs on the suspect. Suazo was not resisting and was lying on his stomach and his hands were being restrained, the police report said.

Figueroa is "pictured as running into the camera's view and taking a large kick at the head of Suazo who was already face down on the ground and motionless," according to prosecutors.

In body camera footage taken while Suazo was in the hospital awaiting treatment after complaining of chest pains, Suazo berates Figueroa for unsuccessfully trying to kick him in the head, prosecutors said. The origin of that video was not immediately clear.

"Missed trying to kick. Learn how to aim, my boy," Suazo said in that video, which prosecutors provided to the media.

"If I wanted to kick you, you know, I would have kicked you right," Figueroa responded, prosecutors said.

Later, Figueroa said: "I didn't kick you. I didn't want to kick you ... I needed you to comply so me pretending to kick you got you to comply, right?"

Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state attorney's office, told CNN the officer would have faced another charge if there were evidence of contact.

Suazo was charged with several offenses, including grand theft auto, fleeing/eluding a police officer and driving with a suspended license, authorities said last week.

Figueroa had been relieved of duty. CNN was unable to contact him Tuesday.