Miami Beach pays $130,000 to Black tourist knocked unconscious by police during arrest

MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

A Miami Beach police officer elbowed a Black tourist in the face multiple times during a 2019 arrest, seemingly knocking him unconscious and triggering a lawsuit the city has now settled for $130,000, according to documents and video footage obtained by the Miami Herald.

Cody Wade, a 29-year-old North Carolina man, sued the city and two officers in federal court over an incident that began with security at Mango’s Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive asking police to escort Wade away from the nightclub due to “disorderly behavior,” and ended with police tackling and handcuffing him after he ran across the street minutes later.

While Wade was on the ground, Officer Alfredo Garcia delivered about five consecutive blows to the side of Wade’s face, body-worn camera footage shows. Garcia and Officer Agustin Rodriguez then dragged Wade to the sidewalk, where he lay apparently unconscious until paramedics arrived.

Wade was unconscious for approximately 12 minutes, according to documents filed in court by his attorneys. Photographs in the court record show a large bruise on his right cheek after the incident.

READ MORE: Miami Beach cops ‘conspired’ to cover up pepper spray attack on tourist, lawsuit alleges

A doctor serving as an expert witness in the case said Wade suffered a traumatic brain injury and later experienced “severe” post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the arrest.

“In our view, this case did not call for the manner and extent of force used on our client,” Jordan Redavid, an attorney for Wade, said in a statement. “We are satisfied that the settlement amounts to some semblance of justice.”

Wade could not be reached directly for comment. He lives in Charlotte, according to a police report, and was visiting South Florida by himself in 2019 for a vacation and to see an aunt in Miramar.

The Miami Beach City Commission approved the settlement in September. The lawsuit was dismissed last month.

What the footage shows

Before officers arrested Wade on June 28, 2019, body camera footage shows they spoke to him outside Mango’s and repeatedly told him to leave the area and not return to the club, or else face arrest. Wade, who later acknowledged he was drunk at the time, argued with the officers for several minutes before they told him he was free to go.

In a police recording taken moments later, Wade is seen running east across Ocean Drive, away from Mango’s and toward the officers, who were walking in his direction. The officers take him to the ground and put him in handcuffs, accusing him of resisting arrest as Garcia delivers the elbow blows to his face.

A police report says the officers had seen Wade trying to re-enter Mango’s after their initial encounter. The report accuses Wade of running to try to evade the officers as they sought to arrest him for trespassing.

Wade’s lawsuit says he was “leaving the area of the establishment” but doesn’t say why he was running.

After handcuffing Wade, footage shows the officers dragging his unconscious body to the sidewalk. Wade is slumped over for several minutes as the officers urge him to sit up. Paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later and took Wade to Mount Sinai Hospital for evaluation before police brought him to jail for booking.

Court records show paramedics administered Narcan to Wade in the ambulance, suspecting he may have experienced an opiate overdose. Wade denied taking drugs that night, according to a deposition filed in court.

Wade was charged with a felony count of violently resisting an officer and misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and trespassing after a warning, but prosecutors dropped the felony charge one month later and declined to pursue the other charges in October 2019, according to court records.

A Miami Beach police spokesman did not respond to an inquiry about whether an internal affairs investigation was conducted on the officers’ use of force.

In court documents, Miami Beach police argued the use of force was justified, calling Garcia’s elbows to Wade’s face “reactionary blows” that were delivered as Wade was allegedly resisting arrest.

“The elbow strikes delivered by Officer Garcia proved to be effective in subduing Plaintiff’s resistance,” attorneys for the officers said in a court filing.

Part of a pattern?

Wade’s lawsuit says he was “viciously brutalized” — reflecting “a dangerous environment of police brutality” within the Miami Beach Police Department.

“It is a longstanding [practice] to permit officers to use excessive force against individuals when such use is unnecessary and unjustified,” the lawsuit says.

That argument didn’t pass muster in federal court: U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. dismissed a part of the suit alleging systemic problems in the police department, saying the complaint failed to identify a specific faulty policy or establish a widespread pattern of abuse.

Still, the incident is one of several in recent years to prompt criticism of use-of-force tactics by Miami Beach police, particularly in their treatment of Black people.

Last year, five Miami Beach officers were arrested for using excessive force on a Black man in handcuffs and for pummeling a Black bystander who was recording the incident. A $119,000 settlement of a lawsuit by the bystander, Khalid Vaughn of New York, was approved at the same September commission meeting at which Wade’s settlement was addressed.

In another lawsuit that was expanded earlier this week, New York woman Mariyah Maple claims a group of Miami Beach officers “conspired” to arrest her last year after she was pepper-sprayed under a city law that has been criticized as targeting Black visitors who make video recordings of police.

“Miami Beach is a remarkable place, which is why so many people visit it each year, and also why policing it surely has its challenges,” said Redavid, the attorney for Wade. “But that’s not a license to use excessive force — especially where a subject has not harmed anyone, is unarmed, and presents no legitimate or imminent risk of harm to person or property.”