Crime

Officer draws gun, breaks man’s leg during traffic stop. Driver not charged with crime

A police body camera video showing a Doral officer pulling his weapon and breaking a man’s leg while forcefully arresting him during a traffic enforcement detail appears to contradict the chain of events described in the arrest report.

The video was damning enough that state prosecutors decided not to move forward with charges against motorist Craig Nembhard. The officer who pulled his weapon on the unarmed man is now under internal investigation and the city of Doral was given notice in late September that the man whose leg was broken intends to file a civil rights lawsuit arguing police used excessive force.

“His femur was fractured in half. It’s a violation of his civil rights. It’s excessive force,” said attorney David Kubiliun, who is representing Nembhard. “Thank God for the body cameras. He wasn’t even going one mile per hour when the officer pulled his gun out.”

The incident took place last May at a Shell Gas Station in Doral near the Palmetto Expressway, where officers were ticketing drivers for making an illegal turn into the station. It shows Nembhard, 31, pulling into the station before he’s ticketed. He then gets into a verbal dispute with the officer, before driving off. In the video Nembhard is heard saying “Hey, words don’t hurt me mother------.” An officer responds telling him to “get the f--- outta here.” Then the officer laughs.

A short time later Nembhard turns his car around in the gas station parking lot and drives back toward the officers. In the video an officer is heard saying “someone’s about to get stomped on.” As the car slowly approaches, then stops, Doral police officer Travis Cooper draws his weapon in his left hand. Then he walks slowly toward the passenger side of the car while pointing his gun at the driver.

“What, you pull up on me like that boy,” says Cooper. Then officers order Nembhard out of his vehicle. When he refuses to leave the car, officers manage to unlock his driver’s side door. Cooper then forcefully pulls him out of the car and slams him to the ground, breaking his leg before he’s handcuffed.

Nembhard screams in pain, saying he turned around because his gas tank was on the other side of the car and that he’s done nothing wrong.

“The guy was arrested and during the arrest his leg was broken,” said Doral Police spokesman Rey Valdes.

The video seems at odds with the arrest report written by Doral Police Officer Jack St. Thomas.

In the report, Thomas said that Nembhard “directed his vehicle towards officer Cooper, which created a well-founded fear that defendant, who was agitated and angry, was about to thrust his vehicle at officer Cooper. Officer Cooper, in fear for his life, unholstered his duty weapon and pointed it at the defendant while simultaneously stepping out of the direct path of he vehicle, which was driving directly towards him.”

The video shows Cooper calmly stepping to the side of Nembhard’s barely moving car and quickly pulling his gun. Nembhard was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest without violence. After reviewing the evidence, state prosecutors decided against moving forward with the charges. The state said it couldn’t prove the case “beyond a reasonable doubt” and that Cooper was made aware of the decision.

Still, Cooper maintains the support of his union, the Miami-Dade branch of the Police Benevolent Association. President Steadman Stahl said from the “limited” video he’s seen, the officer acted properly and that two officers actually drew their weapons.

“He leaves and comes around and the officers are in fear he’s coming back at them in an aggressive manner,” said Stahl. “This is something we’re seeing across the country. You need to comply and complain later. He could have argued later that this should have been handled differently.”

Cooper’s actions are now under investigation.

Valdes said the department opened an Internal Affairs probe into Cooper’s conduct in late September when the video was released. The investigation remains active. He said a use-of-force report was completed, but its findings remain part of the IA investigation.

The story was first reported in late September by WTVJ Channel 6.

Kubiliun said Nembhard, who was working at a Doral warehouse when he was arrested, is now homeless and living at the Camillus House in downtown Miami.

“This took away his ability to work,” said the attorney. “He’s walking with a walker. This was a traffic stop, a simple traffic stop.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

Chuck Rabin, writing news stories for the Miami Herald for the past three decades, covers cops and crime. Before that he covered the halls of government for Miami-Dade and the city of Miami. He’s covered hurricanes, the 2000 presidential election and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. On a random note: Long before those assignments, Chuck was pepper-sprayed covering the disturbances in Miami the morning Elián Gonzalez was whisked away by federal authorities.
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