A Fort Lauderdale, Florida, officer who shot a protester in the face with a rubber bullet at a Black Lives Matter protest last year, leaving her with horrific injuries, has been cleared of wrongdoing.
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department announced at a Thursday press conference that Detective Eliezer Ramos did not intentionally strike LaToya Ratlieff with the rubber bullet during a May 31 protest.
“Detective Ramos identified and targeted an individual who had hurled a projectile at our officers with the intent to cause them harm. The internal affairs investigation has determined that it was not Detective Ramos’s intent to strike Ms. Ratlieff,” said Interim Police Chief Patrick Lynn.
On the day of the incident, Ratlieff wandered toward a conflict between police and protesters, where officers were spraying tear gas and firing rubber bullets at a crowd that began throwing water bottles after one officer shoved a woman who was kneeling.
She was struck in the face by a rubber bullet fired by Ramos, which left her with a two-inch gash on her forehead and a broken eye socket. As a a result of the injuries that required 20 stitches, Ratlieff could face long-term vision issues or brain damage.
The department concluded that Ramos intended to fire his weapon at a protester who was trying to pick up a tear gas canister that was still releasing gas.
“To Ms. Ratlieff, we have worked together all the facts of this case for a clear understanding of what occurred,” Lynn said. “On behalf of the men and women of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, I want to express my sincerest apologies for the experience you have had with our police department.”
Friday morning, the day after Ramos was exonerated, Ratlieff returned to the place where she was shot and told CBS Miami she was disappointed about the news.
“I remember getting the message that he was going to be exonerated, and I remember my heart dropped,” said.
Ratlieff also didn’t think Lynn’s apology was genuine.
“Interim Chief Patrick Lynn gets to give a very, very bland apology for my experience, as if I had a bad dinner at a restaurant. It’s disingenuous, it’s disheartening but if nothing else it’s invigorating,” said Ratlieff.
Michael Davis, one of Ratlieff’s attorneys, said his client is prepared to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city if no reforms are made within the police department.
“This investigation has always been about trying to justify what happened and trying to demonize LaToya Ratlieff and other peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their First Amendment right,” Davis said. “We knew what the result was going to be. But I think we still had hope that the right thing will be done. Ms. Ratlieff is very disappointed, but not surprised.”
Davis also said he believes the investigation was more concerned with “justifying what happened” than with finding out what actually happened.
During an August sit-down, a lead investigator told Ratlieff that Ramos was a “good guy” who would not have shot her on purpose. The officer, Sgt. Jeffrey Newman, was later removed from his post investigating citizens’ complaints about police.