Video shows Orlando police officer punching man in face

By Lisa Bell, Anchor, lbell@clickorlando.com
Published On: Feb 06 2013 11:09:33 PM EST
Updated On: Feb 07 2013 05:31:19 PM EST

An Orlando police officer has been reprimanded after a camera captured him punching a man in the face.

ORLANDO, Fla. -

An Orlando police officer has been reprimanded after a camera captured him punching a man in the face.

According to an OPD Internal Affairs report obtained by Local 6, officer Douglas Cote says he punched Tommie Gatto, 25, in the face "to gain distance" from him after Gatto spit in the officer's face.

The incident happened on August 4, 2012, at the busy intersection of Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando. Nearly five months later, on December 30, 2012, Cote received a written censure for violating OPD policies on use of force during an arrest.

According to the report, Gatto admits to being drunk after consuming about 12 shots of liquor. He'd been thrown out of Bar One and approached officers to complain that he lost his wallet inside the bar, authorities said.

A detective was unable to find his wallet and officers say that's when Gatto got enraged, spit in the officer's face and was knocked to the ground.

But according to the report, three of Cote's supervisors initially reviewed the video and approved the use of force. It wasn't until the matter went further up the chain of command that red flags were raised.

Sgt. Rich Lane, a training supervisor, testified that a closed fist strike to the face is only approved when an officer is responding to aggressive resistance and the actions of the offender are expected to injure the officer. He went on to say that spitting saliva in the face is not an action expected to cause injury.

Another supervisor, Capt. Shawn Fawbush, testified that although the officer's reaction was understandable, the response violates OPD policy.

Gatto was charged with battery on a law enforcement for spitting on the officer.

According to court documents, Gatto served 90 days in jail, pleaded no contest to the charges and the case is now closed.

On Thursday, the Citizens Police Review Committee said they didn't believe the officer was in the wrong for punching Gatto. In a 4-to-2 vote, the board said the officer responded to Gatto appropriately and didn't violate OPD policy.

The board is drafting a letter with their recommendation that will be sent to the chief.

Watch Local 6 News and stay with ClickOrlando.com for more on this story.

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