The Miami-Dade Police Department is conducting an internal investigation after a passerby — who happened to be high-powered attorney — intervened after saying she saw an officer kick a compliant driver during a traffic stop.
The Miami-Dade police Professional Compliance Bureau is investigating after confirming the identity of the plainclothes officer in photographs taken by Greenspoon Marder partner Deborah Baker-Egozi, department spokesman Artemis Colome said late Thursday.
The department said Wednesday that it couldn’t confirm whether the man in the photographs was one of its 2,600 officers but vowed to “investigate to the fullest degree” the attorney’s account of that day’s encounter.
“We are very transparent with the public and the media. We want the people to trust us,” Colome said. “The officer’s name can’t be given because it’s an open investigation and exempt from the public record right now.”
The investigation stemmed from an account by Baker-Egozi, a member of the Florida Bar’s board of governors, who said she offered to represent the young motorist in the midst of the encounter.
Baker-Egozi said she was on her way from court when she was alarmed by screaming nearby. She 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, and 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 she said she felt compelled 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.
The attorney started taking photographs and offered legal help to the driver. She later posted on Facebook about the encounter.
Baker-Egozi said Friday that the police bureau had contacted her as part of its investigation.
Fellow attorneys widely applauded Baker-Egozi, commending her for taking action.
“Not many people are willing to speak up and react to police misconduct. They prefer to stand back and watch. I think people are generally fearful that they themselves might be victimized by aggressive police,” Coral Gables criminal defense attorney David M. Shenkman said. “This woman spoke up, and I think it was bold, I think it was commendable, and I think that she may have brought to the officer’s attention that people are watching.”
Other attorneys showed their support on social media.
“Another reason we need lawyers,” Miami attorney Mary Ann Young posted on Facebook. “Excellent job, Deborah Baker-Egozi.”
“While so many say the right things, Deb does the right things,” Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns partner Josh Chilson in Clearwater wrote. “Proud to call you a friend, Deb.”