As protests and tensions continue nationwide over the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, another situation that occurred a week earlier in our state is gaining attention.
In a memo copied to Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino on May 19, a captain of the department concluded that when an officer “placed a knee on the neck” of a suspect during an arrest a day earlier, “the application of force appears reasonable.”
That conclusion, by Capt. Demetri Konstantopolous, was made in a use of force report to Officer Matthew Hughes, describing actions by Officer Drusso Martinez as he struggled with 27-year-old black Sarasota resident Patrick Carroll while trying to arrest him on alleged domestic battery charges on May 18.
The arrest, as well as Martinez’s kneeling on Carroll’s neck, did not become public knowledge until June 1, when the police department was tagged in a video post.
The matter is under internal investigation and litigation.
However, DiPino defended her handling of the case. She said, “When I became alerted to these incidents I took immediate action.”
Chief DiPino issued a statement about the cellphone video after it became widely public June 1, saying, “While it appears the officer eventually moves his leg to the individual’s back, this tactic is not taught, used or advocated by our agency.”
Officer Martinez has been placed on administrative leave.
Two days before Carroll’s arrest became public, DiPino condemned the tactic of subduing suspects with a knee to the neck, in response to the viral video showing the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis through the same type of force.
On May 30, DiPino issued a statement that read in part, “I was shocked and outraged by the actions and conduct of the Minneapolis police officer and the inaction of the other officers I observed on the video,” her statement said.
It continued, “The senseless death of Mr. Floyd is tragic, heartbreaking and never should have happened. … The men and women of the Sarasota Police Department are not trained to use tactics I’ve seen in the videos in Minneapolis. The actions of the officers in Minneapolis were inexcusable.”
Michael Barfield, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, questions the timing of DiPino’s message.
On June 1, we were tagged on social media showing a portion of a video with Officers arresting an individual on May 18, 2020. After viewing several videos, Chief DiPino immediately initiated an I.A. investigation & placed the officer on admin leave. More @ https://t.co/QRZRpR5xnJ pic.twitter.com/KvyPJaCIDG
— Sarasota Police Department (@SarasotaPD) June 2, 2020
“DiPino needs to stop pretending she was unaware of the knee-on-the-neck tactic,” Barfield said. “Her patrol captain signed off on it as ‘reasonable’ and sent her that message six days before the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis.”
He adds that the chief could have acted sooner.
“Condemning this terrible tactic after the fact is a political move,” he said. “The time for Chief DiPino to be a leader was on May 19 when she knew one of her officers used the knee-on-the-neck tactic. She didn’t condemn it then. Worse, she pretended not to know anything about it when it came to light. That conduct is disappointing and inconsistent with being a public servant.”
In response, DiPino said Saturday that there are six levels of review before she receives reports, and that her department takes immediate action when an incident violates policy.
For example, she pulled the use of the vascular neck restraint, a tactic that restricts blood flow to the brain and causes the person to become unconscious, on May 27, in order to review the practice.
On May 7, that tactic was used on a 22-year-old who attempted to strike officers.
According to a arrest report, Carroll was arrested May 18 in connection with a domestic battery case. Officers Martinez and Amelia Wicinski say he was cooperative at first.
Carroll said he went to the female victim’s house to pick up some clothes, but they ended up arguing when he found clothes on the lawn.
He added that the woman cursed and yelled at him, and threatened to call the police, prompting him to pack some items and leave.
However, Carroll denied striking the woman.
Officers arrested him for domestic battery, as the woman had visible bruising and swelling on her arms, face and chest area, the report explained.
Carroll began to yell at the officers, asking them why he was being placed into handcuffs.
While being placed in handcuffs, he continuously attempted to reach into his pockets, according to police.
The arrest report says Carroll refused to comply with a body search.
The officers then took him to the ground “with minimal force” when he struggled with them.
“I grabbed a hold of Carroll’s right wrist and right elbow area and conducted a takedown. Carroll landed on his stomach, at which time he continued to flail his body and head,” Martinez recalled in the use of force report. “I placed my right knee on the back of his neck to better control his body, at which time he calmed down.”
A search of Carroll’s body lead to the discovery of a baggie of marijuana; his backpack contained four .22-caliber bullets, police said. A criminal search also found that he had a felony conviction.
In addition to domestic battery, Carroll was charged with felony possession of ammunition and misdemeanor resisting arrest.
Photos provided by Martinez show Carroll had no injuries, the report said.