Hours after a cell phone video captured the moment when a City of Miami police officer kicked a handcuffed man in the head, his sisters walked into a community meeting seeking answers.
“We don't even know where he is. We don't know the extent of his injuries. We don’t know if he’s in the hospital. We don’t know if he’s at a police station,” said Maritza Valerio.
Her brother David Suazo was suspected of stealing a car. A video uploaded to Facebook shows him on the ground as an officer places handcuffs on him. He does not appear to be resisting. Then, a second officer comes running up and kicks Suazo in the face.
Shortly after the video started making the rounds on social media, Miami’s police chief announced the officer would be suspended with pay, pending an investigation.
Thursday evening, Valerio stood before Miami’s Community Advisory Board - a panel of Miami residents who advise the police department on ways to work better with the community-, expressing her frustration.
“If he committed a crime let him face whatever penalties for that, but he was already on the ground in handcuffs,” she said.
The board was created as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice after Miami police officers killed several unarmed black men in the late 2000s.
Justin Pinn, chairman of the board, said just before Valerio walked in there had been a presentation discussing how officers should treat the people they arrest with dignity and respect. "And obviously, from what I saw in the video, that didn't occur," said Pinn.
Major Cherise Gaus with the City of Miami Police Department was in the audience. She stood and addressed Valerio and her sister, Orelia Suazo.
“Just on behalf of the police department, we are truly sorry about what took place today. I assure you after this meeting we will find out the whereabouts of your relative and give you an update at that time.”
As Major Gaus finished her remarks, Assistant Police Chief Louis Melancon walked in. He said there is no excuse for his officer’s actions in the video.
“There is no justification for that. Regardless of what the crime was or what happened, that doesn't justify the means or the outcome of that arrest.”
Orelia Suazo said she accepts the apology, but she’s still hurt because at first, she said, police at the scene of the brother’s arrest denied anything happened.
“My hurt is that the sergeant lied to our faces He was like, ‘Oh we didn't beat up your brother, but we didn't hurt him.’”
A resident in the Overtown neighborhood saw the arrest happen. She videotaped the encounter and posted it on Facebook.
Someone shared that video with the sisters.
Valerio says that’s how she found out what really happened to her brother.
After the meeting, Valerio stepped outside. Her phone had been buzzing nonstop.
She takes a call, it’s Lisa Harrell, the woman who recorded her brother’s arrest.
“I just wanted to ask, ‘Is he ok?” Harrell said.
Valerio told Harrell her brother wasn’t seriously injured and he’s being processed in jail.
“I won't be able to breathe until I can physically put my eyes on him and know that he's OK,” she said. “But according to them, he's OK.”