Greenspoon Marder partner Deborah Baker-Egozi was on her way from court Wednesday morning when she was alarmed by screaming she heard nearby.
Soon thereafter, the attorney stepped into a volatile situation, one that would leave her shaking and upset for hours.
The civil litigator is known for her pioneering work against revenge porn. Her firm holds a spot on The American Lawyer’s 2017 Am Law 200 ranking, based on size and revenue. The last thing she expected as she left the courthouse in downtown Miami was to see a heated confrontation between a driver and a law enforcement officer.
Baker-Egozi said she saw an officer yelling at the driver during a traffic stop. The driver was out of the car with his hands in the air, while the officer leaned in closely, inches from his face, screaming and using obscenities.
Baker-Egozi said the driver appeared calm and compliant, but the officer was irate. She said she wanted to use her cellphone camera to start recording, but was initially frightened the officer would notice and turn his rage on her.
But what she said happened next forced her to intervene.
“The kid was totally complying. His hands were in the air, his back was to the officer, and the officer kicked him—hard,” Baker-Egozi said. “He had to gear up to do it.”
The attorney started recording the scene, taking photographs, and then she went further, offering help to the driver.
“Advocacy has always been part of my M.O.,” or modus operandi, she said. “If a lawyer is walking by and can offer assistance to victims of police violence … it’s our duty to do something about it.”
Baker-Egozi confronted the officer.
“I saw you kick him,” she said. “I heard you say you were detaining him.”
Later, she wrote a Facebook post.
“I witnessed a police officer’s traffic stop walking back from court today. Brown driver, black passenger. The driver had his hands on his head, was following orders and was silent. The cop kicked him and screamed at him for over a minute an inch away from the kid’s face,” she wrote. “I yelled to the kid who got kicked that I would be his attorney if he said yes, and he did. The cop then screamed at me to tell me the kids had only been detained for a routine traffic violation and asked me if I observed them being arrested. I told him that I observed him kicking the driver, and that the criteria for hiring counsel is not an arrest.”
The photographs show an unidentified officer wearing a long-sleeved black shirt with what appears to be a police badge printed near the left shoulder, and a gray unmarked Ford Fusion with internal police lights and Florida license plate HFXN77.
Time stamps on the photos show the incident took place May 9 at around 10:07 a.m. in downtown Miami, one block south of Flagler Street on the corner of South Miami Avenue.
Miami police spokeswoman Officer Kenia Fallat said the cop in the photo is not part of the city’s team. And Detective Artemis Colome, spokesman for the countywide Miami-Dade Police Department, could not immediately identify the officer late Wednesday.
“If it’s one of our officers, we will investigate to the fullest degree. That’s not something we take lightly,” Colome said, urging Baker-Egozi to also reach out to the agency’s Professional Compliance Bureau. ”If there’s any violation of policy, [or] any criminal violation, Internal Affairs will definitely deal with it.”
Baker-Egozi’s account comes days after an unrelated video showing a Miami cop attempting to kick a detained man went viral on social media after it appeared on news sites including The Miami New Times. In that video, Miami Police Officer Mario Figueroa appears to take a running start before kicking at alleged car theft suspect David Vladim Suazo. Suazo was handcuffed and on the ground at the time.
Baker-Egozi’s intervention might have prevented Wednesday’s encounter from escalating.
The attorney said the officer’s attitude changed when she convinced him she was a lawyer, ready to defend the detained man.
“He didn’t know an attorney witnessed his unjustified violence and backed off these poor kids and then started being really nice,” Baker-Egozi wrote on her Facebook page. “He canceled his reinforcements, and by the end was shaking hands being nice to the kids. What if I wasn’t there?”
She ended the post with a hashtag: #tired.