Sarasota police officer cleared of wrongdoing - WFLA News Channel 8

Sarasota police officer cleared of wrongdoing

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Last fall a shocking video was released showing a police officer brutally slamming a homeless man into a wall.

The officer was the subject of an internal affairs investigation and we just found out he's been cleared of any wrongdoing.

After the video came out, there was a lot of shock among city officials and an investigation was done to see if there was any excessive force.

The officer was suspended and then put on administrative leave.

After a few months, it was found there was not enough evidence to support that complaint.

One critic says there should be more training to prevent this from happening again.

In October of last year, Officer Derrick Gilbert was called out to a bus terminal to arrest Roger Fields. Fields had been drunk and belligerent, but when Fields resisted arrest, Gilbert slammed him onto the side of a ticket booth, cracking open his head.

Gilbert needed stitches, and the police department launched an internal affairs investigation.

But soon Gilbert was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said, "We have to take into consideration all the facts, not just the tiny, little piece of video that was shown over and over again."

The Chief says Gilbert was probably surprised that Fields was resisting arrest, and Gilbert did not intend to hurt him.

DiPino said, "Hindsight is always 20/20. It's always easier to go back and criticize and say, 'You shoulda, woulda, coulda.'"

ACLU Attorney Andrea Mogensen said, "Videos don't lie."

Mogensen is skeptical of internal investigations. She thinks a civilian review board could be more effective.

 "When you're having an agency police itself, it's a little bit troubling," Mogensen said. "One thing that we have to be very sensitive about is that people  in our community with this kind of authority, meaning law enforcement, have to be very, very careful with that authority, and if there's no accountability we're going to end up having more problems like that."

She thinks more can be done to prevent this from happening again.

Mogensen said, "Do we need punishment? Perhaps not. But training, review and sensitivity, yes we do."

Mogensen thinks Gilbert's fellow officer could've helped out more during the incident, and it probably could've prevented injury.

Mogensen said, "When something like this turns out as badly as it did, there's nothing wrong with walking the involved officers through it and say, 'hey, here's how we can avoid this in the future.'"

The police chief says all of her officers get defensive tactics training. DiPino says she takes all internal investigations seriously because the department's reputation is at stake.

The chief challenges the public to find out for themselves what police work is like.

They offer a citizen's academy to give regular folks a taste of the force. For more information, contact the Sarasota police department.

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