MIAMI -- The Fort Lauderdale Police Department has opened an internal investigation into an officer who shot a woman in the head with a foam rubber bullet at a protest on Sunday, fracturing her eye socket and leaving her bloody and stunned.
Shooting someone in the head with such a projectile can be deadly, according to manufacturer documents.
"This particular case, we felt from what we saw, could potentially be a violation of policy," Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione said in an interview late Wednesday. "A 'less lethal round' striking someone around the head, neck or groin, you could hurt somebody."
The officer has not been publicly identified or relieved of duty. The department had previously suggested it would not open an investigation without a formal complaint from the woman, LaToya Ratlieff -- whose eyes are so swollen she can barely read. That changed after days of outcry on social media and public political pressure from state Democrats.
"I am responsible for every single thing that my police department does," said Maglione, who added that he is asking those present at the anti-police brutality protest in downtown Fort Lauderdale to submit videos of the incident to an online portal.
The chief said he had authorized officers to use "less lethal munitions" and tear gas in situations where officers or the general public were in immediate danger.
Ratlieff told the Miami Herald that she has not yet called back the internal affairs investigators who contacted her late Wednesday night.
"The past few days have been overwhelming," Ratlieff said. "I'm currently in pain, both emotionally and physically, and right now I need to focus first on my health and recovery."
The 34-year-old, a grant writer for a nonprofit organization, joined an estimated 2,000 marchers protesting the death of George Floyd, where violence erupted after an officer shoved a kneeling young woman. Water bottles were flung at the officer as he retreated. Police used tear gas and foam rubber bullets against protesters. Maglione said that before the officer waded into the crowd, protesters "attacked" a female officer in a vehicle, leading her to send out a distress call. Roughly 500 officers were on duty for the protest, according to the chief.
Ratlieff never threw anything nor did she participate in any forms of violence, according to videos from the scene and Herald reporters who witnessed the incident. She was stumbling away from the crowd choking on tear gas around 7 p.m. when another officer fired at her from about 10 yards away. Reporters later found cartridges of "foam batons" at the scene, a type of "less lethal" munition shot from a rifle-barreled launcher at 280 feet per second and commonly referred to in the United States as "rubber bullets."