During Art Basel in 2017, comedian Hannibal Buress walked out of a Wynwood bar, stood near Miami Police Officer Luis Verne, and shouted, “This cop is stupid as fuck” into Verne’s body camera. Verne immediately arrested Buress on public intoxication charges, but provocative yelling into a cop’s body camera isn’t illegal, so prosecutors later dropped the charges.
As New Times previously reported, Verne had alcohol-related trouble of his own just months before wrongfully arresting Buress. On January 6, 2017, after knocking back a few Fireballs with two other off-duty cops, the officer walked up to a civilian in Miller’s Ale House in Kendall and, without provocation, violently choked the man and slammed his head into a railing.
Startling new footage shared by filmmaker Billy Corben, who obtained the video via a records request, shows Verne walking into the middle of the bar from the right-hand side, speaking briefly with someone, then, for no discernible reason, choking and slamming the back of another man’s head against a railing multiple times. Verne then places the man in a chokehold and appears to say something to the man with his face just inches away. Then bystanders intervene and Verne runs away.
It’s not the first time Verne has been accused of off-duty incidents “where allegations were made that he was under the influence of alcohol and had anger issues,” according to the city’s Civilian Investigative Panel. In a more-recent incident from this past January, an off-duty Verne allegedly rammed a Jeep into a motorist, chased down that person’s car, whipped out a police badge, and yelled, “You don’t know who you are fucking with. If you leave now, I’ll forget this happened.”
On the night when Officer Verne choked and beat another man apparently without provocation, he and the two other off-duty officers were drinking a combination of Fireball, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Sierra Mist. One of the other cops seen with Verne that night was Adrian Santos, who was later arrested in a separate incident when he was videotaped snorting cocaine inside the nightclub E11even.
A witness said Verne had “attacked” the other man, though the cops claimed the Ale House guest had lobbed “obscene” comments at Verne, including calling him a “pig.” The newly obtained footage calls that story into question, since the choking victim is clearly not speaking to Verne, who is not in uniform. Nor does the officer seem to even acknowledge his presence, until he walks up to the civilian, chokes him, and slams his head into a railing.
The victim called the cops, but Verne fled the bar before they arrived. Verne told investigators he called himself an Uber. When Miami-Dade Police showed up at 1:16 a.m., the man, who was apparently intoxicated, told MDPD that a plainclothes Miami officer had choked him “for no reason.” He later told IA investigators Verne was bothering a woman at the bar and the woman asked for help getting the cop to leave her alone.
Internal Affairs sustained the allegations against all three cops, but the records New Times obtained do not indicate whether the cops received any punishment. Florida’s Law Enforcement Bill of Rights says officers cannot be disciplined if an investigation is not completed within 180 days. This investigation took more than a year. IA closed the bar-fight case this past July 2.