A Clearwater police officer has been dismissed from the force after an internal investigation revealed he used excessive force on a 13-year-old boy at a youth shelter.
Surveillance video shows Michael Leonardo grabbing the teenager across the upper chest and slamming him face-first onto the concrete sidewalk just outside the front doors of the shelter. The takedown maneuver left the boy with a range of facial injuries from a broken nose to chipped teeth — and ended the officer’s career.
Leonardo, a four year veteran of the force, told investigators that he thought the teen was trying to get away from him even though he was handcuffed. Chief Dan Slaughter offered no excuses or defense for the officer’s action.
The video shows him writhing on the ground as officers Miller and Boeckel look on. Slaughter said a more appropriate course of action would have been to leave the boy in the cruiser and monitor him there. The backup officers, Cpl. Christopher Miller and Officer Scott Boeckel, were handed down training and counseling for their conduct after the takedown, Slaughter said.
“Obviously the takedown maneuver is the crux of our conversation today, but the juvenile rolling on the ground is not something I’m very proud of,” Slaughter said while watching the video with reporters. And later, “We have enough funds to clean a cruiser if we have to.” The officers stated they didn’t want their cruiser contaminated with the teen’s blood so they let him writhe in pain on the curb.
The video is clear and doesn’t show the teen resisting or trying to escape. Even Chief Slaughter agreed that the teenager was in the control and custody of the officer and the takedown maneuver was inappropriate. There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of behavior from a law enforcement officer. The teen was unarmed with his hands cuffed to his back. He had no way to defend himself against the officer’s brutality.
As he was concluding his press conference, the police chief said he wasn’t going to villainize the fired officer. He doesn’t have to do that. He did that to himself the minute he body slammed the teenager to the ground.