A Miami police officer has been placed on leave after being captured on camera repeatedly punching a homeless man who allegedly had stolen food from a local supermarket in South Florida.
Officer Alexander Garcia-Contreras has been released from his duties with paid leave as investigators look into what took place at a Publix supermarket in Miami just before 7 p.m. on Friday, April 16.
Officer Garcia-Contreras was working an off-duty security shift at the grocery store when a manager informed him that a man, later identified as Willie Barbor, had grabbed a piece of cooked chicken from the deli and was eating it as he walked away.
According to the arrest report, when the manager asked the 58-year-old to pay for the item, he replied, “f-ck you,” and said he didn’t have to pay because he was homeless. He reportedly added, “I don’t have any money.”
Garcia-Contreras then asked Barbor to accompany him to an office where he could issue a trespassing order. Barbor “started to walk away disregarding Officer Garcia-Contreras’ lawful orders,” the report said. That’s when the officer grabbed him, and Barbor started “tensing up, pushing his hands away from the officer.” Garcia-Contreras “re-directed the defendant to the floor and gave him a couple of distractionary strikes to gain the defendant’s compliance,” the report continued.
The social media video that emerged this week, however, showed Barbor with his hands up, backing up slightly as the officer pushes him several times before applying more force to push Barbor onto a salad bar. Moments earlier Barbor is heard asking the officer to allow him to pay for the food.
As the back and forth continues, Barbor repeatedly tells the officer, “Don’t push me, homie, don’t push me.” When Garcia-Contreras was unable to get Barbor’s hands behind his back, he pushed him to the ground. “What you do all that for?,” Barbo asked. That’s when the officer begins to punch the man at least eight times behind his head to audible shock from onlookers.
“See what I mean, you beating me up for nothing. You beating me up for nothing man,” said Barbor.
At one point the officer yells at Barbor to stop resisting to which he quickly responded, “I’m not resisting you, you the one beating me up.”
On Thursday, April 22, the President of City of Miami’s Police Union, Tommy Reyes, spoke on the matter, stating, “Officers are allowed to use force to gain compliance from a subject that’s resisting.” He added, “This incident happened weeks ago and for the administration to just relieve him of duty yesterday, I think, is a knee-jerk reaction and an overreaction to one video posted on social media.”
After the incident went viral, a look into Garcia-Contreras record shows he has a history with use of force incidents. Since joining the Miami Police Department in 2015, the officer has had seven use of force incidents. One man who saw the recording of the Publix incident recognized the officer as the one who allegedly punched him during an arrest, leading to a complaint in 2019. After an investigation, internal affairs found that Garcia-Contreras acted “discourteously.”
Court records indicated that the charges of petty theft, resisting without violence, and disorderly conduct were dismissed by prosecutors four days following Barbor’s arrest. He has since been released from jail.