October 3, 2022

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Just Do Travel

Third man cleared in confrontation with Miami Beach police

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State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle points to the video where a police officer allegedly kicks defendant after announcing the arrest of Miami Beach police officers and shared the video involved with a rough arrest last week at the Miami-Dade State Attorneys Office on Monday, August 2, 2021.

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Earlier this month, five Miami Beach police officers were hit with criminal charges after they tackled and arrested a New York City tourist who had been filming the rough arrest of another man inside the lobby of South Beach hotel last month.

Though those two encounters, caught on hotel and body cam video, drew national scrutiny — the arrest of a second bystander for doing the exact same thing that day had largely gone unnoticed.

Less than an hour after his friend Khalid Vaughn was arrested while filming officers kick and punch a suspect, Sharif Cobb also found himself filming officers — this time as they waited outside the lobby to transport his handcuffed pal to jail. Like his friend, Cobb soon found himself in handcuffs. He was charged with resisting arrest, his lip bloodied during the encounter.

In an arrest report that also echoed Vaughn’s, police claimed that Cobb refused “several warnings to leave the immediate area.” But prosecutors, in reviewing police body-worn camera footage, saw that Cobb was actually following orders — walking backward away from the cops. “It is clear that Mr. Cobb was complying with the officers’ orders to retreat and step back,” according to a prosecution memo on the case.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office on Monday said it has now dropped the case against Cobb, whose arrest that night at the Royal Palm has received little publicity, but also raises questions about the conduct of Miami Beach police officers. Lying on a sworn police report can be considered a crime of “official misconduct,” but whether prosecutors will make such a case remains to be seen. No officers have been charged criminally in connection to Cobb’s arrest.

A State Attorney’s spokesman said Monday that the investigation into police handling of the case continues. “If the investigation yields prosecutable evidence of additional violations of Florida law, those cases will go forward,” spokesman Ed Griffith said.

Cobb’s defense attorney, David Frankel, said Monday that his client was also roughed up by officers.

“Mr. Cobb was simply coming to the aide of a citizen that he saw being abused by police, and for that he was beat up by the police,” Frankel said. “Not only should the officers be charged for battery but it is obvious that they lied in their reports to cover up what they had done and be charged with perjury.”

The president of Miami Beach’s Fraternal Order of Police, which represents officers involved in the Royal Palm incident, could not be reached for comment Monday. Last week, FOP President Paul Ozeata said of the arrested officers: “They deserve their day in court, just as everyone else does.”

The Royal Palm incident happened on July 26, when police said that a man named Dalonta Crudup, 24, hit an officer with his scooter and nearly hit a second. The officer wound up hospitalized and on crutches.

Crudup eventually ditched the bike and ran into the lobby of the Royal Palm, 1545 Collins Ave., where officers commanded him to the ground and handcuffed him. But prosecutors said that as Crudup was on the ground, officers kicked and slammed his head on the ground, even though he was not resisting and was already in custody.

Vaughn, 28, a bystander in the lobby, was video recording the arrest with his phone. A Miami Beach officer tackled him, footage shows, and he was punched, elbowed and slammed into a concrete pillar. Vaughn was charged with resisting arrest and impeding a police investigation, a charge immediately dropped by the State Attorney’s Office.

“We felt what [Vaughn] was doing was within his rights,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle later said of Vaughn recording the officers.

Facing single counts of misdemeanor battery are Miami Beach Police Sgt. Jose Perez and officers Kevin Perez, Robert Sabater, Steven Serrano and David Rivas. The five have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the case.

Cobb’s arrest happened outside the hotel. Also from New York, he is friends with Vaughn, and was outside the hotel as Vaughn and Crudup were on the pavement, handcuffed, awaiting transport to jail.

The arrest report, by Miami Beach Officer C. Marin, alleges that Cobb ignored an order to “stay away” from officers, and was “issued several warnings to leave the immediate area so officers can conduct their investigation.” The report claims Cobb “broke officers blocked off area” and “refused to give” them 20 feet of space while they were “engaged in the lawful performance of their legal duty.”

He continued to ignore orders, Marin alleges in the report, forcing a sergeant to attempt to take Cobb into custody. The officers alleged he “shifted his body weight forward,” breaking free of Sgt. V. Stella, then “bracing and tensing his arms.”

“Officer Marin was then forced to deliver one distractionary right hand strike (close fist)“ to Cobb’s torso, Marin wrote, referring to himself in the third person.

But the version of events depicted in Marin’s report “is not supported by what is captured on body worn camera,” prosecutor Joshua Ryan Paikowsky wrote in his memo on the case.

Instead, body cameras from two officers, Kendra Woodstock and Melissa Rosa, showed Cobb “retreating into the hotel” as officers are instructing him to move back. “While he retreats, Mr. Cobb is grabbed from behind and arrested on the steps of the hotel,” he wrote.

Cobb was charged with resisting an officer without violence, and violating a recently passed Miami Beach ordinance that prohibits a citizen from getting within 20 feet of an officer performing his legal duty after a warning. The state said it could prove neither charge because “Mr. Cobb retreated when instructed to by the officers.”

Although the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has made a slew of arrests of cops in rough-arrest cases over the past couple years, prosecutors less often charge them with lying on police reports.

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State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announces the arrests of Miami Beach police officers and shares video of a violent arrest. Carl Juste [email protected]

There have been a few cases. Earlier this year, two Hialeah police officers were arrested for allegedly issuing bogus tickets to motorists. In July 2020, Miami Gardens police officer Yordy Martel was charged with official misconduct for allegedly lying in reports about his arrest of a woman outside a strip club; she was hit with a Taser stun gun during the take-down.

A Miami Beach police spokesman, Ernesto Rodriguez, did not say Monday whether any of the officers involved in Cobb’s arrest have been relieved of duty. Cobb’s arrest is “part of the full investigation,” he said. “The totality of circumstances are under review.”

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.