‘I WAS IN FEAR FOR MY LIFE’
Florida Cops Under Fire for Violent Incidents With Black Women
After two violent clashes with black women in Florida—one deadly—there are calls for the feds to investigate.
As four Miami police officers threw Dyma Loving on the ground to cuff her, the thought that went through her head was: “All I wanted to do was call my daughter.”
The 26-year-old mother of three said she called the police for help but ended up being treated like a dangerous criminal during an encounter earlier this month that was caught on a now-viral video.
It shows an officer pushing her against a metal fence, putting her in a headlock and taking her down on the ground as she pleads with him. Her face is pressed against the sidewalk, her long black wig next to her after coming off in the struggle.
“I just said I wanted to call my kid… What do you not understand? I had a gun pointed in front of me… I need to go call my children. I don’t understand,” she says before she is hauled into a squad car, under arrest.
Two weeks later, the shock of the encounter has still not worn off.
“I feel distraught and overwhelmed,” she told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “Now, I don’t think I will ever call the police again.”
Loving’s arrest is one of two violent encounters between police and black women in the last two weeks that were caught on video and that have put Florida law enforcement under scrutiny, with threats of lawsuits, criticism from the NAACP, and a demand for federal investigations.
About 30 miles from where Loving was arrested, 32-year-old Latasha Walton was fatally shot six times by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper last Tuesday while inside her car. Authorities say she drove toward the officer after refusing to stop for a traffic violation, forcing the trooper to fire.
Her family says the shooting was unjustified.
“What this officer has done has broken me, her [Walton’s] two children, our entire family,” Walton’s sister, Allison Wright, said at a press conference this week.
“Why must you use excessive force for a traffic stop? Why would you shoot my sister down like a dog in the street? We will never heal from this.”
Both incidents are under investigation by local authorities, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Florida Highway Patrol. But Loving and Walton’s supporters say that’s not enough for what they believe is a systemic problem.
“This is not a black and white issue. It is a wrong and right issue,” Miami-Dade NAACP president Ruban Roberts told The Daily Beast.
Loving’s run-in with the police unfolded on March 5 after she and a friend, Adrianna Green, walked by the home of Frank Tumm, 50, a white neighbor, who allegedly began yelling at them and then became menacing when they shouted back.
“He called us hookers, called us racial slurs and suddenly he turned around and put a shotgun in our faces,” Loving said.
“He told me he was going to shoot my burnt black ass face off my neck,” she said.
That comment prompted the pair to call the authorities. But when the police arrived, they began to hurl questions at the two women instead of Tumm, Loving said.
“They kept telling us to calm down, but there was a gun in my face. How could I calm down?” Loving said. “I was in fear for my life and just wanted to go inside the house to charge my phone so I could talk to my 1-year-old daughter, who was sick.”
The video shows Officer Alejandro Giraldo telling Loving to calm down before abruptly becoming physical with her. She was taken to the police station and left in the squad car for four hours while waiting to be booked, she said. Finally, she was charged with two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence and held for 17 hours at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center before she was able to post bail for $1,500.
It wasn’t until nine days later that Tumm was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to WPLG TV. On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office dropped charges against Loving.
After the video of the confrontation began circulating, Giraldo was relieved of duty with pay; he is currently in an administrative assignment. Giraldo did not respond to The Daily Beast’s multiple attempts for comment.
“I find the actions depicted on the video deeply troubling and in no way reflective of our core values of integrity, respect, service, and fairness,” Miami-Dade Police Department Director Juan Perez tweeted last Wednesday in the first official response.
He added “an investigation into the entire incident is currently ongoing and upon its conclusion” before any further action is taken to anyone who “violated” police procedure.
Loving and her attorney, Justin Moore, said they plan to file a civil rights lawsuit against Officer Giraldo.
“Now that they have dropped those charges, we are free to prosecute any civil rights claims she may have including false imprisonment, false arrest, and unnecessary use of force,” Moore told The Daily Beast on Wednesday after meeting with state prosecutors.
“We are now working with state’s attorney office, who is still reviewing the evidence and are exploring possible charges against the other three officers.”
Miami-Dade NAACP President Ruban Roberts joined the meeting.
“Officer Alejandro Giraldo put a stain on the police department. He is a slap in the face,” he told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Roberts is also demanding someone answers for Walton’s death.
At 7:30 p.m. on March 12, Florida state trooper Ronald Melendez-Bonilla responded to a request for backup at a traffic stop near the entrance of the Golden Glades Park & Ride for a “vehicle driving erratically,” a FHP spokesperson told The Daily Beast. When Bonilla allegedly recognized Walton was “attempting to flee the traffic stop,” he positioned his car in front of her white BMW.
“Due the unusual behavior of the subject, Trooper Melendez-Bonilla exited his patrol vehicle and drew his firearm,” the spokesperson said. Walton allegedly began driving toward the trooper’s car before he fired six shots, killing the mother of two.
In video of the incident, Walton’s car can be seen slowly moving on the highway before Melendez-Bonilla fires his weapon six times, stumbling after the first shot as he’s walking backwards and again as he appears to trip on a median.
Florida Highway Patrol would not say if Melendez-Bonilla has been put on administrative duty or suspended, saying that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating. The FDLE declined comment.
The head of the Miami-Dade PBA defended the trooper, telling The Daily Beast that Melendez-Bonilla acted in self-defense and feared for his life.
Melendez-Bonilla did not respond to The Daily Beast’s multiple attempts for comment.
Prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump—who is representing Walton’s family—said the officers involved in both incidents should be prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s office and investigated by DOJ to combat the “recent trend of police engagement and excessive use of force against black women” in Florida.
“What happened to Dyma then escalates, and then you have just an unnecessary, unconscionable [and] unjustifiable killing of a 32-year-old mother of two,” he said.
On Tuesday, Benjamin Crump sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, demanding a “full, fair, and complete investigation” into the trooper for using what he described as “unnecessary and unjustifiable lethal force” on Walton.
“Nothing less will do,” Crump wrote.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on whether Barr has received the letter or if the department plans to open an investigation.