The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has decided that the police officer who slapped at woman at Miami International Airport last year will not be charged. Officer Antonio Clemente Rodriguez slapped Paris Anderson without, in my view, proper justification or cause. This would seem a clear case of battery, but Rodriguez was allowed to retire with back pay after being removed from the force.
The June 2020 confrontation was captured on video.
Police say that Anderson was mad about a flight and intoxicated. She is seen arguing with Rodriguez and another Miami-Dade police officer. At one point, she says “You acting like you white when you really Black? What you going to do?”
Rodriguez then strikes her in the face and she is brought to the ground by other officers and arrested. She was charged with felony battery of a law-enforcement officer.
That charge was entirely abusive and unsupported. While prosecutors soon dropped that case, no one seems concerned that there was never any reasonable basis for the charge and there was a videotape that clearly established that fact. It is not clear which officers supported the meritless charge or whether any were sanctioned as a result.
Prosecutor Sandra Miller-Batiste determined that Rodriguez had “no duty to retreat,” and that it was not unreasonable for him to believe that he was in danger. I disagree. Anderson is rude and unruly but she is not presenting a physical threat to the officer. The slap was entirely unjustified and seems more a response to the insult than any threat.
The police department initially sought to fire Rodriguez but the South Florida Police Benevolent Association successfully opposed the termination. After arbitration, Rodriguez was allowed to retire and claim back pay.
Under Florida law, this would seem an open-and-shut case of battery:
784.03 Battery; felony battery.—
(1)(a) The offense of battery occurs when a person:1. Actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other; or2. Intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.
Again, I do not see the exercise of any privilege or justification by the officer. He was being verbally abused and then took violent action. The police manual states that “[f]orce can be used against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to defend one’s self or others from the imminent use or threat of unlawful force.”
These encounters show how much we demand from officers. This is a tough job. They often face abusive and insulting treatment from citizens but are trained not react or escalate the situation. Indeed, under the Miami-Dade police manual, officers are expected to deescalate such confrontations:
De-escalation: The strategic slowing down of an incident in a manner that allows officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility in which to assess the unpredictable, dynamic nature of a police scene. Applying de-escalation skills increases the potential for resolving the situation with minimal force or no force at all, reducing the likelihood of injury to the public, increasing officer safety, and mitigating the immediacy of potential or ongoing threats. Some examples of deescalation strategies include proportionality, using distance and cover, tactical repositioning, slowing down situations that do not pose an immediate threat (tactical pause), engaging communication, subject containment, and calling for supervisory and other resources( i.e., backup officers, crisis managers, family members, clergy, etc.).
That takes a great deal of training and control by officers but it is an essential part of their job. They are trained to overcome the natural inclination to react in this way. Officers are given the authority to use lethal force and, as part of that power, they are expected to exercise greater levels of restraint than we would expect from average citizens.
This criminal case began with a clearly meritless charge of battery against Anderson. That alone is chilling when it was the officer, not Anderson, who committed the battery in my view.