Three years ago, prosecutors charged Homestead Police Officer Lester Brown after pushing a handcuffed inmate against a police station wall, a blow hard enough to cause the man to bleed profusely from the face. Brown then claimed self-defense, saying he feared the drunken, belligerent man was about to headbutt or spit on him.
A Miami-Dade judge this week agreed with Brown, dismissing his battery charge under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.
Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda, in a hearing on Tuesday, said she believed Brown’s claim that he was trying to “make room” as Jose Trinidad Garcia Alvarado turned on him as he was in a holding cell. “Unfortunately it’s a small room and there’s a wall,” she said, according to a transcript. “I don’t think he was hoping to smash his head against a wall.”
She added: ‘I don’t believe Defendant Brown should wait to be headbutted, kicked or spat at before making room.’
The push was captured on Homestead Police Department internal CCTV, footage that was primary evidence against Brown. The decision follows several days of hearings.
The firing was just the latest brutal arrest to end without a conviction in South Florida – several of the officers, like Brown, said they used force because they were afraid of being spat on. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office lost at least three brutal arrest cases at trial, while convicting two others, the most recent being a county police officer who was sentenced to 364 days in jail for attacking a victim of a crime.
READ MORE: ‘You have tarnished your reputation.’ Ex-Miami-Dade cop given 364 days for wrongful arrest
Brown’s was also the latest case of a police officer cleared under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to step aside before using force to deal with a dangerous threat, and also gave judges more leeway to dismiss criminal charges.
In 2018, the Florida Supreme Court, ruling in the case of a Broward sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a man carrying an air rifle, ruled that the law of self-defense also applied to police on duty. Two years later, a Broward County judge cited the law in dismissing a misdemeanor case against a deputy who pepper-sprayed a teenager during a fight in the parking lot of a Tamarac mall.
As for Brown, he still faces an official misconduct charge. He is accused of having lied on a report on the circumstances of the arrest. But the judge’s decision will likely force prosecutors to drop the charge.
“We are assessing the status of the case, which may be in jeopardy due to the Stand Your Ground decision,” state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith said.
Brown was charged with beating Trinidad, a migrant worker who was arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly intoxication – he had drunk more than 20 beers. Early in the morning of December 18, 2018, Trinidad was transported to Homestead Police Headquarters for booking. Shirtless, hands cuffed behind his back, he was driven to the station, where Brown worked as a reservation agent.
According to a defense motion, Brown had heard on the radio that it took three officers to arrest Trinidad and “that he was spitting on officers.” When the other officers arrived at the Homestead police station, he saw another cop “pull” Trinidad out of the patrol car by his feet.
Then, Brown said, he saw the handcuffed man walk away from an officer, Darryl Mays, “in a violent and aggressive manner”, and heard him swear not to enter the holding cell, according to the motion.
Moments later, Mays escalated the tension by yelling at Trinidad “to speak English – you’re in America,” the motion reads. As Brown led him into the room, he kept trying to look at Mays.
“Suddenly, [Trinidad] completely turned around to come face to face with Agent Brown! defense attorney Anthony Genova wrote in his motion.
“It was that exact moment that Office Brown – who is missing a thumb – could no longer control” Trinidad, according to the motion. “Through Constable Brown’s law enforcement training, he knew that a handcuffed person could still pose a threat to his physical safety by banging his head or spitting in his face, which could transmit diseases if it touched his eyes.”
Brown pushed him, and Trinidad tripped over his feet and hit the wall, Genova wrote.
Judge Miranda believed Brown.
“I believe that a reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances and knowing what [Brown] knew he would have used force and reacted the same,” Miranda said.