Homeless arrest video sparks calls for change in Sarasota

10:41 AM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida - The video seems to show a Sarasota police officer slamming a homeless man into a wall. It was captured by a surveillance camera on October 6.

Advocates for the homeless in Sarasota find the video alarming, but not surprising. They say it's just one more example of police trampling on the rights of the homeless.

"The city commission ordered a crackdown and these are the fruits of what they asked for," says Michael Barfield of Sarasota's American Civil Liberties Union.

This isn't the first time Sarasota Police have been caught on tape abusing a suspect. In 2009, an officer kicked a handcuffed man while he was down. And last August, an officer repeatedly punched a man in the face.

Both incidents resulted in costly lawsuits and now there's the possibility of yet another one.

"Obviously from the number of videos that are out and the number of incidents that we've had-there is a training problem," says city commissioner Shannon Snyder.

The video has Snyder, a former deputy, renewing his call for the Sheriff's takeover of the police department. The costs of the lawsuits, needed training and the pension at the department are just too high.

"We're looking at extreme expense to the taxpayer that we can't afford," says Snyder.

Any decision on the department's future is down the road, but the video has the city manager making some immediate changes. On Friday he asked Acting Chief Paul Sutton to form a City-County Homeless Advisory Taskforce.

Barfield is pleased the new city manager is taking the homeless issue seriously, but he also says several studies have already been done. And he thinks more talk only makes it more likely that more abuse of the homeless can happen.

"What we need now is action," says Barfield. "Not more words and promises that 'we're going to look into this.'"

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