Lawyers for two black women involved in police altercations in South Florida are calling for criminal charges against officers, citing an excessive use of force.
Dyma Loving says she was assaulted during an arrest on March 5 by a Miami-Dade Police officer after she reported that someone pointed a shotgun at her.
One week later, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper fatally shot Latasha Walton on March 12 as she drove away during a traffic stop. Both incidents were captured on video.
“Why would you shoot my sister down like a dog in the street?” said Walton’s sister, Allison Wright, at a Tuesday press conference, before bending down to the ground in tears.
Florida Highway Patrol has said Walton was trying to flee, and the involved trooper, Ronald Melendez-Bonilla, has claimed she tried to use the car as a weapon against him. But Walton’s family said Tuesday that cell phone video of the incident, near the entrance of Golden Glades Park & Ride, shows the shooting was unjustified and warrants an investigation.
“You could have shot out the tires. You are trained to do other tactics," Wright said. "You don’t have to go to the extreme.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has launched a standard investigation to determine whether Melendez-Bonilla committed any wrongdoing. Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Walton's family, said he wants state prosecutors to fairly investigate the incident and bring charges against the trooper. The family is also demanding a separate investigation by the Department of Justice, he said.
The incident involved the firing of six bullets. In the cellphone video of the incident, taken by a bystander, Walton drives her white BMW around a Highway Patrol car that is parked in front of her. Melendez-Bonilla, standing nearby, then quickly shoots into the car as it moves down a roadway and before he appears to stumble over a median.
The fatal bullets ended the life of Walton, 32, a mother of two.
FHP says troopers stopped Walton for driving erratically. FHP policy says a trooper is not permitted to use deadly force on a fleeing felon, including into a moving vehicle, unless there is an imminent threat to the trooper or someone else.
Crump argued that the video shows the moving car does not appear to hit Melendez-Bonilla or threaten his life.
“He fell over the curb. Go look at the video,” Crump said. “He’s out of position. We’ve all seen traffic stops before.”
Attorney Sue-Ann Robinson, who’s also representing Walton’s family, added that investigators must now thoroughly examine the video “frame-by-frame” and “bullet-by-bullet.”
“Each bullet is going to have to be justified,” she said.
The incident involving Loving and a Miami-Dade police officer occurred after she reported to the police that a man had pointed a shotgun at her and a friend.
Once officers arrived and she told them about the incident, officer Alejando Giraldo repeatedly questioned her and accused her of being disorderly, according to body cam footage. Loving responded that she was “calm” and just wanted to go home to see her kids. But Giraldo grew more angry before tackling her to the ground and handcuffing her.
In an interview on Tuesday, Loving reflected on her thoughts during the arrest and called the experience traumatic.
“I just couldn’t think of anything other than my kids,” Loving said. “You know I just didn’t want to die. All I thought was, 'Let me live, so I can get home to my kids."'
She added that she now experiences nightmares from the incident and is going through counseling.
The Miami-Dade Police Department has suspended Giraldo and called his actions "troubling."
Loving wants criminal charges brought against him and two other officers involved in the incident. She is also seeking a Federal Civil Rights Claim against Giraldo, the police department and Frank Tumm, the man who pointed a shotgun at her and a friend and also called them “hookers” as they walked past his house.
Loving was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence. Ruben Roberts, chairman of the NAACP of Miami-Dade, said he wants the charges to be dropped and wiped from her record.
"This is a right-and-wrong thing," Roberts said. "Nobody should be treated that way, calling the police because they were assaulted."