WATCH: Tampa Police Officer Accused Of Excessive Force

August 20, 2015

TAMPA — The morning of Nov. 5, 2014, started out as a typical one for Liz Vargas Juarbe.

Still wearing her pajamas, she rushed around the house trying to get her daughter ready for school before heading out at 7 a.m. As she always does, Vargas let her daughter out of the car in the drop-off line at West Tampa Elementary School, then pulled her 1993 Buick into a parking spot to meet her and walk her to her classroom.

At first, said Vargas, 34, she didn’t see the Tampa police officer who had pulled in behind her. He told her the plastic cover on her license plate was illegal because it made the tag hard to read.

They argued. Less than a minute after they both got out of their cars because of a traffic stop over an obscured license plate, Vargas was in handcuffs, face down on the ground.

Nearly 10 months later, their argument continues, but this time with lawyers. Vargas was charged with obstructing or opposing an officer without violence, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors agreed not to pursue the charge after she completed 16 hours of community service. She is threatening to sue the police department.

The officer, Kevin Fitzpatrick, is the subject of an ongoing internal affairs investigation by the police department.

Internal affairs investigators will have a key piece of evidence as they try to sort out the situation: Everything was captured on video.

Vargas and Fitzpatrick offer different accounts of the incident, though they agree on some aspects.

Fitzpatrick spotted Vargas’ car as she was pulling into the lot at the elementary school on Cherry Street. In the arrest report, he wrote that he was patrolling the area and stopped her because of an obscured license plate.

Once Vargas pulls away from the school, Fitzpatrick switches on his lights and executes the traffic stop.

A camera on Fitzpatrick’s dashboard captured the incident on video, although viewers can’t hear most of what is said.

What started as a simple traffic stop quickly went downhill, the video shows.

Vargas pulled into a parking space near the back of the school and after a few seconds got out of her car. Fitzpatrick walks toward her, gesturing at the back of her car as he does.

Fitzpatrick asked for her license and registration. Vargas said her registration was in her glove compartment, but that the compartment’s handle was broken. She said she forgot her license at home in her rush to get out the door.

The pair can be seen talking, and the conversation quickly escalates into an argument. Fitzpatrick grabs Vargas and attempts to put handcuffs on her as she screams for help. The video shows the two struggling for a few seconds before Fitzpatrick pushes Vargas to the ground. She hits her chin and shoulder against the pavement in the process.

A resource officer from the school runs over to help.

In the police report, Fitzpatrick wrote that Vargas refused to give him the documents he requested and argued with him over the validity of the stop. He said Vargas swore at him as she waved her arms and raised her voice.

“Upon contacting the driver, she immediately became argumentative and repeatedly ignored my lawful requests for her documentation,” Fitzpatrick wrote in the arrest report. “The defendant continued arguing and began gesturing with her arms and raising her voice. I attempted to restrain the defendant and at that time she resisted my attempts to control her.”

Vargas said she was able to give the officer her license number from memory even though she didn’t have the license with her.

“They said I refused everything,” she said. “I didn’t refuse.”

Vargas said Fitzpatrick was the one who was aggressive, and that she told him why she didn’t have access to her registration and drivers license.

“He slammed me to the ground like I was a piece of trash,” she said.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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