The Pembroke Pines Police Department on Friday defended its officer who was seen on surveillance video punching a 14-year-old girl in the face during an arrest at a psychiatric center for adolescents.
"It was a highly violent situation," said Pembroke Pines Police Captain Al Xiques.
The video shows the girl walking down the hallway of the Citrus Center for Adolescent Treatment Services among a group of nurses and police officers on April 28.
When one of the officers grabs the girl's arm in an attempt to place it behind her back, she turns around and swings at him. He then punches her in the face.
The punch knocks the girl to the ground, and the angle of the camera only shows several officers on the floor and one throwing another punch. Another sprays her with pepper spray as she is on the ground.
"What the camera does not capture is what was going on just feet away from where she was ultimately placed into custody, and that is approximately an additional 30 people fighting each other and staff members getting beaten up," said Xiques.
Sources told Local 10 the officer who punched the girl is Joey Cabrera, a recent recruit.
In a letter to interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo and Pembroke Pines Police Chief Dan Giustino, Broward County Chief Assistant Public Defender Howard Weekes wrote that the girl in the video was charged with resisting arrest with violence, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief.
"When an officer uses that type of force against a mentally ill child, there is no other conclusion than that officer is using excessive force," said Weekes. "It is inappropriate to punch a young girl like this, especially a young girl that may be experiencing some mental trauma at the time."
Weekes' letter said the facility often sedated girls and tied them down for minor infractions.
According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, 16 complaints have been filed Citrus Center against since March 2008. Their last surprise inspection was July 9 after a complaint was made for lack of supervision, but it was unsubstantiated.
Xiques said the girl who was arrested told the officer she did it on purpose to "get out of that place."
"After her arrest, she thanked the officer for having arrested her," he said. "She stated that is what she wanted to happen, which is why she struck him, and she apologized to the officer."
Xiques said the girl offered to write a letter of apology to Cabrera, but he never received it. Weekes said it's insulting and offensive for police to say his client would thank the officer who punched her in the face.
The Department of Children and Families is investigating.