June 27, 2022

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The Fashion Spirit

Woman shot in face by rubber bullet at BLM rally sues police

3 min read

FORT LAUDERDALE — LaToya Ratlieff, the Delray Beach woman who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet fired by a Fort Lauderdale police officer during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020, is suing the Broward city and several of its police officers, accusing them of using excessive force and causing her “severe, painful, and permanent physical and emotional injuries.”

Ratlieff’s lawsuit was filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, two years to the day from the afternoon police fired tear gas into the crowd and a rubber bullet struck her in the right eye. According to the lawsuit, police resorted to physical force without warning and without first giving the crowd an opportunity to disperse.

The protest in downtown Fort Lauderdale was one of dozens that sprang up across the country as video footage was released depicting the murder of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd had been accused of trying to pass a fake $20 bill. His death became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Fort Lauderdale protest on May 31 drew hundreds to the vicinity of Southeast First Avenue and Southeast Second Street. Among them was Ratlieff, who identifies herself in her lawsuit as the great niece of 1960s and 1970s civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer.

Police reports and video footage from body cameras worn by Fort Lauderdale police officers shows some officers reporting they were under attack, with one patrol car having a rear window shattered. Police claimed protesters were hurling objects at them, prompting the tear gas response.

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Videos taken during the chaos show the rubber bullet that struck Ratlieff was fired after someone else threw a tear gas canister.

Ratlieff, now 36, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The officer who fired the bullet, Eliezer Ramos, was cleared of wrongdoing in an internal affairs investigation that concluded just days after Ratlieff received an apology from Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Ben Sorenson.

The clearing of Ramos all but guaranteed the lawsuit — Ratlieff’s attorneys called the investigation a sham and said its goal was always to clear the officer.

No hearing date has been set for the federal civil suit.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department appeared to be unaware of the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon and did not issue an immediate comment.

Rafael Olmeda can be reached at [email protected], 954-356-4457 or on Twitter @rolmeda

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