A woman peacefully demonstrating at a Fort Lauderdale Black Lives Matter protest who was shot in the eye by police has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, its police department, the officer who shot her, and several other officers. On May 31, 2020, while protesting against police brutality in the killing of George Floyd, LaToya Ratlieff, 36, was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet fired by Fort Lauderdale police detective Eliezer Ramos. Two years later, on May 31, 2022, she filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida.
Along with violating her First, Fourth, and 14th amendment rights, the lawsuit accuses the officers of battery and neglect in the use of impact weapons or rubber bullets.
Tear Gas and a Rubber Bullet
A video shows that Ratlieff was choking on tear gas that police fired into the crowd when she was shot. The video of the shooting and of Ratlieff being dragged away by the officers went viral.
While rubber bullets are not designed to kill, they can inflict serious damage and may prove deadly if victims are shot directly in the head or chest. The lawsuit states that the Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s own “less-than-lethal” training methods for the use of Kinetic Impact Projectiles –the formal term for items such as rubber bullets –did not train officers on the use of KIPs in crowd control. Neither did it instruct officers not to aim for the “red zone,” which includes the head, chest and lower back, as a first resort.
Permanent Eye and Neurological Injuries
According to the lawsuit, Ratlieff suffers serious and permanent eye damage and neurological injuries as a result of the rubber bullet. The injuries included a broken right eye socket, nerve damage to the eye, and 20 stitches to close the laceration. She now has a scar on her forehead. According to her lawyers, Ratlieff is also suffering from mental trauma and migraines.
A Family Known for Activism
Ratlieff is the great-niece of Fannie Lou Hamer, an American civil rights, voting rights, and women’s rights activist who was an icon of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and ‘70s. From childhood, Ratlieff was encouraged to speak out peacefully against injustice and oppression.
She Just Got in the Way
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department cleared Ramos in December 2021 following an internal police investigation. Ramos told investigators that he was not aiming the rubber bullets at Ratlieff but at a man who threw a tear gas canister at police, and “she just got in the way.” The Commissioner at the time, Ben Sorensen, apologized to Ratlieff.
However, Ratlieff told the Miami Herald that in the previous two years, the city had done little to ensure that what happened to her won’t happen to someone else. She said the only way to force reform was to hold them accountable in a court of law.