Two BSO deputies are facing charges for brutally beating a man at a gas station last year and then lying about it in the arrest report. Those lies might have gone unchallenged if it weren't for the surveillance camera hanging above them.
The Broward State Attorney's Office is charging Deputy Justin Lambert with battery and falsifying a report, and Deputy Mike Manresa will get a falsifying-report charge for the 2014 incident in which they beat 50-year-old David Gonzalez unconscious and then arrested him for resisting arrest. More than a year after the incident, BSO tells New Times that court summonses have been issued for Lambert and Manresa, but they have not yet been formally arrested and booked on the misdemeanor charges.
This is not the first time Lambert has been involved in a false-arrest and battery incident. In 2013, BSO had to pay $350,000 in a civil case where Lambert was involved in tasering and beating a man in front of his wife and kids.
"Justice has finally caught up with Justin Lambert," says Gary Kollins, who represented the plaintiff in the earlier case. "It's no wonder that he is now criminally charged for brutality in arresting a person just several months after that payout."
The more recent police brutality episode happened on February 18, 2014, when Gonzalez was at a Deerfield Beach gas station and deputies Lambert and Manresa showed up to respond to a call about a drunk man pestering the store clerk. Gonzalez allegedly tried to exchange his watch for a 12-pack, but the clerk told him to get lost and called police to take him away. Instead, the cops stopped Gonzalez and accused him of shoplifting. But Gonzalez denied he stole anything and allowed them to run his license.
As Manresa ran the ID, Lambert got in Gonzalez's face and berated him for about ten seconds, according to court documents, accusing him of theft. Gonzalez continued to deny the accusations (it was later proven he had not stolen anything), and then Lambert punched him.
After the first punch, Lambert and Manresa grabbed the man and threw him to the ground so hard, he was knocked unconscious when his faced smacked the ground.
Deputies would later describe the incident as “escorting” Gonzalez to the ground.
After handcuffing the knocked-out man, Lambert kicked him as he searched his pockets. Nothing was found, and Gonzalez couldn't be arrested for theft. The BSO cops, however, did arrest Gonzalez on two counts of resisting arrest without violence.
If it weren't for the gas station surveillance video, which was first reported by Local 10's Bob Norman, Lambert and Manresa's tale might have held. But the camera caught what really happened.
In the arrest report, Manresa wrote that he “attempted holding Gonzalez against the wall to calm him and place him in handcuffs, but he pushed his body forward.” Manresa added that Gonzalez “attempted to pull his hands away” from Manresa and Lambert as they tried to restrain him. Lambert's report matched his partner's fictional take of events.
In May 2014, the two deputies were put on desk duty.
Lambert has had a long – and expensive – history of police misconduct. In December 2009 in Dania Beach, Lambert tasered and beat 50-year-old Jorge Rodriguez in front of his wife and kids. Lambert and two other deputies then arrested Rodriguez for resisting arrest and also arrested his wife for disorderly conduct.
The couple sued, and in December 2013, a jury awarded them $350,000 in damages. But that wasn't all BSO had to shell out for that incident. Another $250,000 was won by William Pineiro, who was falsely arrested that day too.
Despite having been previously arrested and charged in a strong-arm robbery case, Lambert was first hired by BSO in May 2000. He was then fired five months later for “substandard performance. Specifically, he was terminated because he failed to meet probationary standards and failed to satisfactorily complete the agency field training program,” according to court documents.
But after failing the Florida Officer Certification Program, he retook it, and then BSO gave him a second chance in February 2001 as a certified detention deputy. Three years later, after getting rejected by four other police departments, BSO put a badge and gun on Lambert, making him a full-time cop.
Five years later, he'd taser and beat Rodriguez.
Attorneys for Gonzalez say in a lawsuit that BSO was well aware of Lambert's problems by the time he was involved in the beating at the Deerfield gas station. BSO “failed to take any remotely reasonable measures to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future.”
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.