Internal affairs have reviewed a Fort Lauderdale patrol officer, who was caught on camera pushing a seated woman to the ground during a peaceful protest for George Floyd, for using force 79 times in his three and a half years with the department, Miami Herald reports. The officer, Steven Pohorence, has since been suspended from his position.
Personnel records released by the law enforcement agency state he has drawn his firearm more than once a month on average since he was hired in October 2016 and 42 times in the past 16 months. In just one workweek he drew is gun four times, three of those incidents turned out to be minor violations or misunderstandings. But because he never fired his weapon or violated department policies, he was not fired after internal affairs reviewed the case. Some of these instances involved Pohorence apprehending a suspect for serious crimes such as robbery, vehicle theft, or outstanding warrants.
Last Sunday, Pohorence, who is white, was seen on video shoving a seated black female to the ground. The video was added to a long list of widely shared videos of police abuse that have occurred as protesters join together against police violence and racial injustice. But what is most notable is the reaction of Officer Smith, a black Fort Lauderdale female officer who became irate at what she saw Pohorence do. She quickly intervened and appeared to grab and berate Pohorence.
According to the outlet, Pohorence’s shove seemed to ignite the nearby crowd. Police responded with foam bullets, flash grenades, and tear gas, leaving at least one woman badly injured by the police’s outburst. LaToya Ratlieff, 34, was hit just above the eye with a rubber bullet, causing it to swell and creating a bloody gash. She was rushed to a hospital by other protesters.
For the most part, the officer has received generally positive performance reviews and does not have any public complaints on file. He has been credited for working in mostly black high-crime neighborhoods and once saved a woman from jumping off an I-95 overpass. However, due to the “friction” in his file, he was sent to mandatory training to improve communication skills in October 2019.
“He needs to work on his interactions with the public with an emphasis on public speaking,” his supervisor wrote on his evaluation. One expert thinks the number of use-of-force reviews alone raised red flags. Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd, had 17 complaints filed against him, but all were basically ignored. And now here we are, another senseless death and over a week of protests.
“One of the things departments need are early warning systems,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which studies police department policies and practices. “So if you have an officer who seems to be pulling his gun disproportionately, you can bring him in.”
Shane Calvey, president of Fort Lauderdale’s Fraternal Order of Police, didn’t speak on the officer’s actions, but he defended the officer’s record, saying there was nothing out of the ordinary regarding Pohorence’s reviews of excessive force.
“There were no policy violations found,” Calvey said.
Police Chief Rick Maglione was the person who suspended Pohorence. Though Maglione wouldn’t blame Pohorence for the civil unrest that erupted in part of downtown Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night, he said, “it could have added to what was going on.” In regards to Smith, the chief said that “She did what you are supposed to do when you see either adrenaline or emotion or some kind of interaction going south… that is our job to do, to intervene.”