Miami Police Officer Disciplined for Improper Use of Taser

Lamont Collins was afraid for his life the evening of Dec. 17, 2014, when he was on the floor, handcuffed and unable to move. Collins says a Miami police officer had a Taser gun pointed at his head.

“I remember thinking this is how I am going to die,” Collins said during an exclusive interview with NBC 6 Investigators.

Collins’ troubles started after two encounters more than a half hour apart inside a Miami grocery store with Miami Police Officer Vincent Miller.

"For some reason he didn’t like me and became very aggressive with me," Collins said. "I left the supermarket and came back sometime later and he immediately arrested me."

Miller escorted Collins to a room in the back of the Publix Supermarket on Biscayne Boulevard. When the homeless man asked the reason for his arrest, he says the police officer grabbed his left arm and pushed him to the floor, documents show. That’s when Miller, a 22-year police veteran, took out his Taser and pressed it against Collins’ jaw while he was face down on the floor.

Collins screamed for help and he heard someone outside the door. But nobody came to help.

"He actually got up, went to the door and turned off the light, came back and put the weapon against my face again,” Collins said.

Collins filed a complaint with the Civilian Investigative Panel, a group created to provide civilian oversight of the City of Miami Police Department relating to police misconduct and civil rights violations. Both CIP and Miami Police internal affairs opened investigations to look into the allegations with both reaching different conclusions.

While Miami’s internal affairs investigation concluded the allegation of "abusive treatment" was inconclusive, CIP ruled that Collins was in fact abused.

Officer Miller denied the allegations also while an internal affairs detective conducted an interview on Aug. 4, 2014. He did not reply to CIP’s invitation to speak to investigators.

"At any time did you ever take your Taser and point it at Mr. Collins?” asked Detective David Ramos of Miami police Internal Affairs.

"No," said Miller, who was under oath.

But surveillance video shows Miller confronting Collins inside the grocery store. Miller was working an off-duty detailed sanctioned by Miami Police at the Publix store, just north of downtown Miami.

Miller told internal affairs investigators that Publix employees complained that Collins was eating from the food bar without paying. The police officer warned Collins to purchase the food before consuming it and issued him a trespass order. Collins began talking loudly and, Miller said, he heard him say, "You have a nice ass," several times.

The surveillance video shows Collins entering the backroom, and later leaving, followed closely by Officer Miller. The backroom where the alleged incident took place has no surveillance cameras.

Christina Beamud, executive director of CIP, said Taser data shows that Miller’s stunt gun was armed twice, both after Collins was handcuffed.

"Generally speaking once a person is handcuffed and there is no other threat to the officer, there would be no reason to activate or deploy a Taser,” Beamud said.

Further, investigative documents show inconsistencies with Miller’s account and the timing he documented the arrest showing that Collins was taken into custody at 10:35 p.m. while the surveillance cameras showed that it happened at 10:28 p.m.

Collins was transported to jail at 11:01 p.m.

Taser’s log shows that Miller’s Taser was armed at 10:42 p.m. for six seconds and again at 10:43 p.m. for 59 seconds.

"This would be consistent with the timeframe and the complainant’s statement that Officer Miller put his Taser against his jaw twice when he was in the room with him," the report noted. "The evidence shows that Officer Miller armed his Taser when no resistance was being encountered."

Beamud said records show that Miller was not being truthful when he denied using the Taser.

"The documents show that the Taser was deployed during the period of time that Mr. Collins was in custody with Officer Miller," she said.

In essence, documents corroborate Collins’ allegations and contradict the statement given by Miller "that he did not handle any weapon while dealing with Mr. Collins," the report said.

As a result, CIP investigation led to a second review by the Miami’s internal affairs finding additional allegations against Miller for failing to follow department’s policy and file a report after deploying a weapon.

Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said that Miller was less than truthful in telling investigators what happened. Llanes suspended the police officer for two weeks after he read the report and determined that Miller had violated a host of rules.

"We missed something in our investigation and they brought it to light and we have to congratulate them because what we want is for our officers to conduct themselves in the proper manner,” Llanes said.

Llanes said Officer Miller's actions are by far the exception.

"Overall, I think the Taser has become a valuable tool in de-escalating deadly force situations,” the police chief said.

Miller’s case highlights the tensions between both investigative entities tasked to probe the police department. Over the past decade allegations of corruption, excessive force, and no outside evaluation of complaints triggered the creation of the CIP and the claims against Miller fell exactly in line with the entity’s responsibilities.

During this investigation, CIP investigators faced difficulty obtaining materials from IA, such as Taser logs. Even after IA completed the investigation, the records were not included on the file that was forwarded to CIP.

And this is not the first time that a complaint has been filed against Collins alleging that he violated the department’s Taser policy, NBC 6 Investigators have found.

In 2014, internal affairs opened an investigation for allegations that Miller used his Taser on another homeless man on Nov. 15, 2013 in front of the same Publix Supermarket at 1776 Biscayne Blvd. Miller, who disputed the findings on this case, was suspended for a week "for abusive treatment" and "unauthorized use of his city issued Electronic Control Device" and failure to report that he deployed his Taser gun, as required by the department.

Miller has received 9 citizen complaints, one driving complaint and 14 used of force incidents noted on his file since he became a police officer in 1994.

Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, said this is "not a story" as he praised Officer Miller’s actions.

"He was ordered to give a statement for his actions nine months later. Do you have any idea how many vagrants/undesirables Officer Miller handled between the incident in question in 9 months?” Ortiz asked. "Countless! If I ordered you to tell me what you had for breakfast 9 months ago, would you have an exact memory? Of course not."

The FOP and Chief Llanes are currently working on some extra training, Ortiz added, to enhance seamless protocols when engaging with the public in use of force matters.

"Our relationship with the USDOJ on improving the quality of service for our community has also dramatically improved,” Ortiz said.

Miller, who was sent to additional Taser training and no longer works at that particular Publix store, is still on duty and carries a Taser as part of his working gear.

As for Collins, the trespassing charge was dropped. But when asked about Miller’s two-week suspension, Collins didn’t think it was enough.

"I think that Miami Police Department only does what they have to do when it comes to discipline of its officers,” Collins said. “I don’t think it’s enough that when a police officer threatens a citizen with a weapon that they should keep their jobs.”

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