Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale Protester Shot by Rubber Bullet Hopes to Make Future Protests Safer

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The protester shot by a rubber bullet during a racial justice demonstration in Fort Lauderdale last month wants to talk with police to make future protests safer.

Fort Lauderdale Police have launched an internal affairs investigation and LaToya Ratlieff has hired lawyers in case they decide to move forward with a lawsuit.

Speaking Thursday, Ratlieff said she wants answers, like which police officer fired the “rubber bullet” and was there an order given. Police have not released the name of the officer involved.

A spokeswoman for Fort Lauderdale Police said their lawyers are talking to her lawyers.

The incident happened when a large group of protestors confronted a group of Fort Lauderdale Police decked out in riot gear near Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Video from the scene - first reported by the Miami Herald - showed Ratlieff across the street from police, then a crack sounds, and Ratlieff screams and falls to the ground. Seconds later people rushed towards her, put her in a car and rushed her to the hospital.

Protestors took to the street to chant and call for racial justice after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The Fort Lauderdale Police Chief posted a video supporting their "first amendment rights."

What began as a peaceful protest in Fort Lauderdale Sunday afternoon, slowly morphed into a tense face off between police and demonstrators, causing Broward County to issue a state of emergency.

Ratlieff’s lawyers with the Law Office of Kuehne Davis Law tell NBC 6 they are not coming for damages at this point. First, they want to begin a conversation with city and police leaders to implement changes and police accountability measures.

“I’m hoping very soon that I can meet with the city of Fort Lauderdale again to understand what happened and the instructions they were given. And understand what they’re doing to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” said Ratlieff.

There is a GoFundMe page online but Ratlieff and her lawyers tell NBC 6 it is a fraud. They’re trying to get GoFundMe to take it down. They are not asking for money.

On Thursday, Ratlieff had her first eye appointment to find out if there will be long-term damage with her vision. She doesn’t know how long the road to recovery will be.

“We’re going to just do whatever it takes for me to get back as healthy as possible. Right now I’m just taking it day by day, appointment by appointment, and I don’t want to worry about the cost because recovery is the most important thing,” said Ratlieff.

A rubber bullet is officialy called a foam baton and is classified as “less-lethal” force. Fort Lauderdale police policy states officers should not aim for the head or neck.

“Please know a civil disturbance is a rapidly evolving situation, where people are moving fluidly. In these circumstances, despite our best efforts, a person or persons may be unintentionally struck with a less-lethal projectile. Our policy permits the use of less-lethal munitions such as foam batons, and our intent is to disperse a crowd, not to cause injury,” said police spokeswoman Casey Liening.

Ratlieff plans to continue and stay involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and the call for racial justice. Her aunt was famed women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, she said.

“If there are protests again, that this will be a safe environment for the protestors. And not something that people are going to have to be concerned to come out and potentially be in danger,” said Ratlieff.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis called what happened to Ratlieff "reprehensible," writing in a lengthy statement that people should not be afraid of the FLPD.

“I reached out to Ms. Ratlieff today and personally apologized. I also offered the city’s assistance in ensuring she received the necessary medical help,” said Trantalis.

Trantalis said on a WLRN radio program Thursday he does not support going as far as defunding the department but supports talking about change in policy and practice. There’s a city commission meeting on the topic next week.

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