A Fort Lauderdale police officer captured on video last month appearing to push over a kneeling protester who had her hands up was charged with battery on Tuesday, authorities said.
Charging documents filed in Broward County circuit court allege that the officer, Steven Pohorence, 29, intentionally struck or touched the protester on May 31.
The charge, a first-degree misdemeanor, was filed after an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail, the office of state attorney Michael Satz said in a statement.
The demonstration, held in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death while in Minneapolis police custody, began on a Sunday afternoon with hundreds of protesters peacefully gathering at a park in Fort Lauderdale.
Officials blamed “agitators” after tensions erupted between authorities and demonstrators, but video showed Pohorence yelling at protesters who were kneeling around him just before the event escalated, the station reported.
After Pohorence, who is white, pushed the 19-year-old woman, who is Black, a second officer who is also Black could be seen pushing Pohorence away from the protester.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione commended the second officer, Krystle Smith, saying 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 intervene, Maglione said, according to the station.
The protester’s mother, Danielle Casey, said that her daughter had gone to the demonstration because she “felt that her voice needed to be heard.”
“She needed to belong to something positive, to stand up for something that is right,” Casey said.
The incident was one of several in the aftermath of Floyd’s death in which authorities were accused of being overly aggressive with demonstrators. Six officers in Atlanta were arrested after police were seen forcibly pulling two college students from a car and appearing to use a stun gun on them. One of the students suffered a fractured arm.
In Buffalo, two officers were charged with second-degree assault after they were captured on video pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground. The man, Martin Gugino, suffered a brain injury.
After the announcement of Tuesday’s charges, Maglione said Pohorence — who was suspended after the May 31 incident — will be placed on administrative leave without pay. After the criminal proceedings finish, an administrative investigation will determine if he violated departmental policies, Maglione said.
Neither Pohorence’s lawyer nor the Broward County Police Benevolent Association immediately responded to requests for comment.