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Surveillance video appears to show St. Petersburg officer kicking man in groin during arrest

The video of Officer Ruben DeJesus’ actions in the bar is being reviewed.
The video of Officer Ruben DeJesus’ actions in the bar is being reviewed.
Published Jun. 3, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Surveillance video of a bar dispute last month appears to show a St. Petersburg police officer kicking a patron in the groin while the man lay on the ground after being zapped by a stun gun.

Jerry Theophilopoulos, who is representing the man who was stunned, said the force used by Officer Ruben DeJesus was "unprovoked."

"Just because you have a badge doesn't mean you're allowed to commit batteries on innocent people," he said. "And that's what happened here."

The man shown being detained in the video, Clinton Walker, 32, of Bradenton faces a felony charge of battery on a law enforcement officer in the case. Another man, Robert Ramirez, 32, of Valrico was arrested in the same incident on a charge of obstruction of law enforcement.

Both men are firefighters with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, according to Theophilopoulos, who is also representing Ramirez.

Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said the department had not received any formal complaint against DeJesus as of Thursday afternoon, but the video was forwarded to the Office of Professional Standards for review after a reporter sent it to police.

"The Office of Professional Standards will look at the video and determine if there's any violation of policy or law, and if so they'll initiate a formal investigation," said Jim Previtera, assistant police chief, adding that the lounge has other camera angles that officers will also review.

Officers had gone to Del Mar Gastro Lounge at 243 Central Ave. about 2 a.m. May 7 after a man was knocked out by another patron. One witness pointed to Walker as the culprit, according to an arrest report, and police tried to detain him for questioning.

DeJesus wrote in an arrest report that Walker was combative. DeJesus put his hands on Walker's stomach to stop Walker from walking away, according to the report, and Walker pushed back, saying, "Who the (expletive) are you?" Officers used a stun gun to subdue Walker, according to the report.

An arrest report also states that Ramirez "continually approached officers in an aggressive manner" and obstructed them from controlling the scene.

Surveillance video from the lounge captured the three-minute confrontation between DeJesus, Walker and Ramirez.

The beginning of the footage shows several officers streaming into the lounge. An officer, whom Theophilopoulos identified as DeJesus, stood across from Walker.

"My client had no idea why the police were accosting him. He hadn't done anything wrong. He hadn't caused any disturbance," Theophilopoulos said.

Ramirez tried to get between them, Theophilopoulos said, but he was pushed away by officers.

Moments later, DeJesus brandished his Taser and stunned Walker, who crumpled to the ground, his arms and legs writhing. Twenty seconds later, while Walker was still on the ground, DeJesus appears to kick him in the groin area, the video shows, though the view is partially obstructed by the bar.

After Walker was arrested, officers turned their attention to Ramirez. As Ramirez was being handcuffed, DeJesus grabbed him by the jaw and shook his face. The officer shoved Ramirez as he was escorted out of the business, the video shows.

DeJesus hung up on a reporter who called for comment Thursday afternoon.

He was hired in 1985, according to police records. His personnel file includes four employee disciplinary notices, but none for excessive use of force. In 2011, DeJesus shot and killed a teenager after they wrestled over a gun. Police had stopped to talk to 18-year-old Jared Speakman in reference to a suspicious vehicle. The State Attorney's Office later found the shooting justified.

In 2013, DeJesus received the department's lifesaving award after he helped lift a car off a man and performed chest compressions while waiting for paramedics. His name is on an award plaque in the department lobby. He has been nominated for Officer of the Year multiple times.

From February 2012 until January of this year, according to department records, DeJesus used force in nine incidents, all of which were found to be justified by his supervisors.

In his latest performance review, a supervisor praised DeJesus' work on the downtown shift, saying that while he often encounters "large, intoxicated crowds" and "unruly and even combative individuals," DeJesus "always utilizes good officer safety practices."

Police eventually determined Walker was not the man who knocked out the patron in the original altercation at Del Mar Gastro Lounge. He was released from jail on $5,000 bail the same day he was arrested. Ramirez was released on $150 bail. According to records, they have no prior criminal records in Florida.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com. Follow @ZackSampson.