The Miami-Dade police officer whose cat-quick strike to a drunken woman’s face during a Miami Hurricanes football game earlier this month was captured on video, has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Three weeks ago, Miami-Dade police officer Douglas Ross reacted to a backhanded slap by clearly inebriated 30-year-old Bridget Freitas as he and other officers tried to carry her out of the stands. According to a use-of-force report provided on Wednesday to The Herald, Ross’s supervisors found the 18-year police veteran’s actions were within departmental rules.
Miami-Dade police Director Juan Perez, while noting the optics were less than optimal, said the bottom line is that officers don’t distinguish between males and females when throwing a punch.
"Did it look pretty? No," said Perez. "But he instinctively reacted to being hit in the face."
The report written by Ross’s supervisor, Sgt. Javier Baez, recounted what police said happened in the stands at Hard Rock Stadium earlier this month, when UM played a pivotal home game against Virginia Tech before its most raucous crowd in almost two decades.
According to the report, Ross and other off-duty officers in uniform responded to Section 129 to help remove Freitas, who was acting unruly, cursing and fighting with other fans. When they tried to remove her, she resisted, at one point grabbing onto the pole on the steps and refusing to leave.
Finally, four officers were able to tear her away and lift Freitas onto their shoulders. Her arms and legs unrestrained, Freitas began flailing her hands, eventually striking Ross in the left eye with a backhand after missing her attempted first slap. Ross responded immediately with a straight right hand.
The report says Ross struck Freitas in the face with an open hand and that she wasn’t injured. That’s hard to tell in the widely watched cellphone video taken by Eric Argueta, another fan in the stands. The video shows Freitas striking Ross, him responding immediately and Freitas’ head snapping backward before she collapses. But the back of the officer’s head blocks a clear view into whether the strike was with his fist or open-handed.
The department’s Internal Affairs office never opened an investigation into Ross’s actions because no one, including Freitas, filed a complaint. The Herald made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Freitas, including visiting her home in Broward County.
She was arrested the night of her confrontation with Ross and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct. Ross, who has been with the department since 1999, works in the warrants bureau. His evaluations over the years have ranged from good to excellent.
Baez’s decision was in conflict with the views of some outside use-of-force experts who said Freitas should have been restrained before the officers lifted her up. They also said an officer throwing a punch is almost always a bad idea that results in an injured suspect or the cop hurting his hand.
Perez, the police director, said department policy is to handcuff or restrain the suspect right way, but circumstances the night of the game with 63,000 fans and Freitas physically refusing orders, warranted a different response.
"In this case it did stop her," said the director. "But we don’t encourage anyone to punch someone in the face."