Sgt. Jeffrey Newman of the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department has been removed from his role investigating citizen complaints about police after he was accused of showing bias in favor of an officer who shot a woman with a rubber bullet during a protest.
Newman reportedly told 34-year-old LaToya Ratlieff, a civil rights protester who was struck by a rubber bullet, that the officer who shot her was his friend, and that the shooting was not intentional.
Ratlieff said Newman told her: “I’ve worked with [him] before. He’s a good guy. I know he didn’t intentionally mean to do it. And it’s my job to investigate and to see what happened.”
The demonstrator was shot in the face by Detective Eliezer Ramos while protesting at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in downtown Fort Lauderdale on May 31. During the protest, officer body cameras recorded them making threats to the demonstrators, saying things like, “get that motherf—er” and “pop his a–.”
As a result of his comments to Ratlieff, Newman has been removed from his post at the Office of Academic Affairs. An internal department memo said that Newman’s actions had created “serious doubt … on his ability to independently investigate the matter.”
Ramos said he did not shoot Ratlieff intentionally, and meant to strike a man who was tossing tear gas canisters back at police. She was preparing to leave the protest just before she was shot, recalled blood spilling from her head as she rode to the hospital in a stranger’s car.
“Where is the accountability to say that this is going to be the last incident?” she questioned during an interview two weeks after her injury. “For those officers that have that power and abuse that power, what are they going to do to ensure that power is taken away.”
Ratlieff and her attorneys both became concerned about Newman’s level of objectivity after meeting with officials on Aug. 10. First, the investigation had been placed on hold and the assigned officers were not working on it at the time. In addition, Ramos and Newman were friends, which created a conflict of interest that the Internal Affairs Department said “calls his judgment into question.”
After learning about the relationship between Ramos and Newman, Ratlief was “in shock,” according to her attorneys Michael Davis and Benedict Kuene.
“We need systems in place in every police department which ensure unbiased investigations which follow the facts and pursue justice,” Ratlieff said. “Despite this issue, I do still plan to participate in the investigation once the city resumes it.”