FORT LAUDERDALE (AP) — Fort Lauderdale police suspended an officer after video showed he pushed a kneeling black woman to the ground during protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, escalating a clash where bottles were thrown and tear gas was fired.
Also in Fort Lauderdale, the state attorney’s office fired a prosecutor Monday for calling demonstrators “animals” at the zoo in a quickly deleted Facebook post.
In the officer’s case, colleagues quickly pushed him away from the woman and down the street Sunday. Police and city officials said it happened as a peaceful demonstration attended by about 1,000 people was dispersing, and smaller groups broke some store windows and sprayed graffiti.
Police Chief Rick Maglione did not defend the actions of Officer Steven Pohorence, but said Monday that Pohorence pushed the woman after he and other officers had just rescued one colleague who had become surrounded and another from a patrol car that people began jumping on.
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Maglione said Pohorence’s actions will be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before an internal investigation is conducted.
Maglione said he understands why some believe the shove provoked the crowd to throw bottles, but he said there were people in the crowd with bricks, bottles, fireworks and other weapons who were hoping to start a fight with officers.
“I don’t think (Pohorence’s) action created what occurred … we were in the process of an officer rescue that turned into another officer rescue,” the chief said. But he said Pohorence’s actions “could have added to what was going on,” and he commended Officer Krystle Smith who pushed Pohorence away from the woman.
“She did what you are supposed to do: When you see either adrenaline or emotion or some kind of interaction going south … that is our job to do, is intervene,” he said. Police declined to make Smith available for an interview Monday.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he felt the Pohorence’s actions were “offensive,” and he’s happy the department has suspended him.
“I thought that was something that should have never happened,” the mayor said.
Demonstrator Samantha Sweeting Davis said she didn’t see the shove, but heard yelling, then saw about six police cars arrive with sirens on. Then she saw bottles being thrown at officers, heard an explosion, and tear gas burned her eyes and throat.
“The job of the police is first and foremost to protect and serve, yet there is a culture of mistrust and doubt. In a protest designed to speak to that, to see a cop do the opposite is almost too on the nose. It is so upsetting,” the 29-year-old high school counselor from Fort Lauderdale said. “Suspension is a great first step, but honestly I want to see the officer de-badged.”
The Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents the city’s officers, declined comment Monday.
Meanwhile, the State Attorney’s Office in Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, fired prosecutor Amy Bloom for writing on Facebook: “When will people learn that their criminal acts and obnoxious protesting actually gets you nowhere? Act civilized and maybe things will change. I’ve never seen such animals except at the zoo.” She said her description applied to protesters regardless of race. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Bloom quickly deleted the post, but someone copied it and it eventually reached her bosses.
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The State Attorney’s Office confirmed the firing in a statement, saying her views are “entirely inconsistent” with its “ideals and principles.”
Bloom, who had worked for the office for eight years as a felony prosecutor, said Monday on Facebook, “I made a post and realized that it could be misinterpreted, so I deleted it within seconds. I believe in justice for all and that ALL lives matter.”
A curfew remains in effect in Broward County.
Elsewhere in Florida, mostly peaceful protests were held throughout the state over the weekend, but some Miami police cars were burned and store fronts damaged. That led Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to postpone the reopening of the county’s beaches, which had been scheduled to reopen Monday for the first time since March when they were closed to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
In Orlando, Police Chief Orlando Rolon said Monday that officers had to fire tear gas Sunday night after some demonstrators started throwing objects found at a highway construction site.
“At that point, officers had to deploy gas,” Rolon said. Some demonstrators then threw tire-like weights onto a road below. Officers used tear gas on them again. He said his officers made 30 arrests Sunday night, including some who broke into stores.
At one point during Sunday’s protests, Rolon and Orange County Sheriff John Mina knelt in solidarity with protesters outside the Orlando Police Department.
In Tampa on Monday, six members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity prayed outside two businesses, Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant and Champs Sports, that were destroyed by arson on Saturday.
“The people that did the destruction, most aren’t from this place,” Pastor James Gallon said. “Then they leave and drive away on the interstate and all then negativity comes to the people who live here.”
Associated Press reporters Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; Freida Frisaro Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; and Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida; contributed to this report.