Two of five officers charged in connection with the beating a tourist inside a Miami Beach hotel in a 2021 incident that was caught on camera are no longer facing charges.
On Thursday, Miami Beach Officer David Rivas stepped out of a courtroom with a smile on his face after Judge Betsy Alvarez-Zane dropped his misdemeanor battery charge.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office believed Rivas should have faced criminal punishment after several officers were caught on body camera and hotel video surveillance making a pair of rough arrests during the July 26, 2021 incident at the Royal Palm Hotel.
However, the judge argued there was not enough evidence for Rivas to be criminally charged. She dismissed his case based on lack of jurisdiction.
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This ruling happened a week after the same judge dropped Officer Robert Sabater’s battery charge for the same reason.
Sabater’s arrest warrant stated he slammed into Vaughn and repeatedly struck him.
However, the judge said based on the information presented to the court, the Miami Beach Officers who completed the arrest paperwork did not find probable cause.
“There is no probable cause. The officers are saying they didn’t have a probable cause. They reviewed the videos and the information to ID officers they saw in the video," Alvarez-Zane told the state attorney's office.
The Miami Beach Officers in charge of filling out the arrest paperwork admitted their job was not to determine probable cause. Their job was to identify which officers were in the video. That information was later passed to the state attorney’s office, who later filed the charges.
“Somebody from your office gave them a summary and then they dispersed that among how many sergeants to file these arrest affidavits. So when you take the depositions of those officers, they are telling you, 'I don’t have an opinion,' 'I don’t know if a crime has been committed,' 'I didn’t review it for that.' Tell me how that gives you probable cause?" Alvarez-Zane said.
Celeste Higgins, Sabater’s attorneys said he was conducting a legal and authorized arrest of an individual who violated a safety ordinance.
"The State’s portrayal of his arrest as excessive or violent was not supported by facts. There were multiple arrests that evening and Mr. Sabater was only involved in one; one which was not violent. The video the State relied upon was from one angle, the others show that Mr. Sabater was not violent and was simply arresting someone trying to get away," Higgins said. "Furthermore, the charging document against Mr. Sabater was not written by an officer who was present, or who witnessed the events or even someone who spoke to a witness to the events.”
Despite the judge’s ruling to dismiss, the state attorney’s office said the judge does not have the authority to dismiss and they plan to appeal both cases.
Attorney Erick Cruz, who represents Rivas, said he'll go through his administrative process to try to get his job back with the City of Miami Beach.
"He’s been out of work for over two years so he’s been looking forward to get back out on the streets," Cruz said.
"It is horribly unfair that Mr. Sabater, a decorated officer who was lawfully doing his job, has been suspended without pay for two years for attempting a lawful arrest," Higgins added. "There are enough instances of police abuse and brutality for the state attorney’s office to pursue that do not require accusing a law abiding officer doing their job.”
Rivas, Sabater, and fellow officers Kevin Perez, Steven Serrano, and Jose Perez were all criminally charged in the case.
Jose Perez pleaded guilty. Kevin Perez was found guilty by a jury and is hoping to get a new trial. Serrano is hoping his charges will also be dismissed.
Footage showed multiple officers kicking a handcuffed suspect and repeatedly punching another man who was filming the first man's arrest on his cellphone.
The incident began when officials said officers approached a man for parking a scooter illegally, and the man fled and struck an officer with the scooter. The officer had to be hospitalized with a leg injury that required crutches.
The man then ran into a hotel lobby, where he was taken into custody.