Two Fort Lauderdale cops were enjoying their attacks on protestors and the whole ordeal was caught on body camera footage.
“Beat it, little f***er,” yelled Detective Zachary Baro, leader of a Fort Lauderdale SWAT team unit. Officers had just shot “less lethal” projectiles at a protester. The individual was walking away after throwing a tear gas canister back at a line of cops.
A few minutes afterwards, another cop, Jamie Chatman, approached Baro behind the police line and asked if his body camera was off. Baro said that his camera was on “stand-by” mode and not recording, which turned out to be false. The two cops then started laughing and joking about the protestors they shot with rubber bullets.
“Did you see me f**k up those motherf****rs?” one of the cops said.
“I got the one f***er,” the other laughed.
The clip received major backlash with attorney Benjamin Crump tweeting, “Fort Lauderdale officers Zachary Baro and Jamie Chatman thought their body cams weren’t recording. Thankfully they were WRONG — and now we know how they actually feel about protestors.”
George Kirkham, a former police officer and professor emeritus at Florida State University, slammed the behavior captured on video. “This is serious misconduct. This is people with badges acting like thugs,” Kirkham said. “It’s like a cancer. If you let it go, it will spread.”
The Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione defended the cops to the Herald. “Your story shows less than 3 minutes of an 8 minute and 43 second long video,” he said. “The entire video clearly demonstrates our officers were under attack by a group of people who chose to use violence instead of peace to antagonize the situation. Although the language is extreme, and offensive to some, our officers were dealing with the chaos of a developing situation.“
Maglione didn’t mention whether Baro and Chatman are under internal investigation or removed from duty.
When reviewing hours of footage, the Herald said it was police aggression that resulted in the first documented confrontation between cops and protestors.
Marchers threw plastic water bottles after Officer Steven Pohorence swarmed into a crowd of protesters and pushed a kneeling woman in the head. Cops responded with a round of tear gas and body camera footage shows that even after this, protesters quickly tried to reestablish peace.
“Please I am begging you, we’re peaceful,” one man can be heard yelling.
“Do you see this?” another man questioned the line of riot police pointing to the protesters taking a knee in the street. “We are going to stop this. We are going to be the generation that brings peace.”
After a couple of minutes, footage shows cops starting to throw tear gas at the group again. Within the 15 minutes of Pohorence pushing the woman, Baro had unloaded his six-chamber rubber bullet launcher and had to reload, according to the body camera footage.
“If you need it, give me a target,” Baro yelled to cops from behind the line.
Such a comment caused concern for Robert Drago, a retired lieutenant colonel at the Broward Sheriff’s Office, who watched the footage.
“If you’re not seeing a threat, why are you asking for a threat?” Drago said. “That would almost lead you to believe that they were indiscriminately firing.”
In his incident report Baro argued:
“In an effort to stop officers and innocent people from being hurt, I targeted these violent subjects with my 40mm less lethal launcher. I deployed less lethal rounds targeting lower abdomen and the large muscle groups of the legs in an effort to deter their violent actions.”
Baro doesn’t record his comments to the other officers in his report. He does, however, say he was hit by a rock “about the size of my fist” and that he saw protesters throwing “rocks, fireworks, smoke bombs, and water bottles containing an unknown yellowish liquid.”
Meanwhile, Chatman said he was hit by a half-stick of dynamite, according to his incident report. Footage shows an explosive blowing up at officers’ feet, according to the Herald. Chatman’s report doesn’t mention that he was injured.
Kirkham said an internal affairs investigation should be conducted on Baro and additional cops in the video. Other former police officers agreed.
“It’s unprofessional. They shouldn’t be laughing and joking about shooting and potentially hurting people,” said Philip Sweeting, a former deputy chief of police in Boca Raton. “It reinforces the public’s distrust of the police. It shouldn’t be tolerated.”
Christina Currie, an attorney and chair of the Fort Lauderdale Citizens’ Police Review Board, also said that Chatman’s questioning of whether Baro’s body camera was off posed a “grave concern.” The policy for Fort Lauderdale police body cameras states that, “Once the [camera] is activated to record an interaction, it shall remain on until the event has ended.”
“It was pretty obvious the officers were comfortable about talking about turning the camera off,” Currie explained. “It didn’t feel like the officer wearing the camera felt shocked about hearing that question. There need to be clearly articulated consequences for violations.”