Devoun Cetoute and Martin Vassolo
Miami Beach Police officers were seen on video Friday night body-slamming a suspect in South Beach and shooting pepper balls toward a crowd that gathered near Ocean Drive.
In a statement on Twitter, police said officers were detaining a suspect when “disorderly” members of a nearby crowd surrounded them, which led police to use pepper balls to clear the area. Multiple suspects were detained and two officers were taken to the hospital with unknown injuries, the statement said. Police did not list the alleged criminal charges for those detained or what injuries, if any, the person slammed by police sustained.
The incident, which happened before 8 p.m., kicked off what police expected to be a busy spring break weekend.
Kevin Green, a South Beach resident who witnessed the melee, said the confrontation began after a large crowd of at least 200 people had gathered on Ocean Drive and Eighth Street to party.
“People were just having fun in that general area,” said Green, who documents the Ocean Drive nightlife on Instagram. “It looked like people were doing Snapchat videos.”
As police arrived to apprehend someone nearby, there was a confrontation between officers and people in the crowd, Green said. Then he heard the pops of pepper balls being fired out of a long gun. He took cover behind a police vehicle as the crowd scattered.
“I heard a pop,” he said. “A bunch of people started running.”
WSVN 7 reporter Sheldon Fox tweeted a video from inside the crowd that showed a police officer taking a suspect to the ground, which evoked a reaction from the crowd. The police then fired pepper balls, a type of non-lethal irritant ammunition.
Police confrontations with crowds in South Beach during spring break are not an unfamiliar sight. Last March, Miami Beach police were involved in several violent altercations, including one incident in which police responded to a brawl at a South Beach bar by tackling one man, punching two others and grabbing a woman by the throat.
At the time, the Miami-Dade County chapter of the NAACP condemned officers’ use of force as racist.
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