Fort Wayne Police Department releases bodycam footage from viral ‘hip toss’ arrest
Exactly four months after an arrest by the Fort Wayne Police Department (FWPD) went “Fort Wayne-viral” in January, the FWPD has released bodycam footage that provides new angles of the arrest.
On Jan. 23, police responded to a crash at the intersection of E. Washington and S. Anthony boulevards.
Court documents from the time of the crash said the suspect, 23-year-old Omar Ortiz, had reportedly disregarded a stop sign, hit a vehicle and also ran a stop light, causing a “traffic accident with injuries.”
When an officer, identified as Michael Meraz, first came into contact with Ortiz, he said he “could smell the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his person,” according to court documents.
According to court documents, Ortiz had a BAC of .292% and had been identified as the suspect in another crash just east of the intersection.
Footage posted on social media that night appeared to show Meraz throw Ortiz to the ground while he had his hands behind his back.
Meraz said that he performed a “hip toss” on Ortiz in order to gain control of him because he feared that Ortiz “was attempting to free himself from my grasp to flee or assault me.”
Meraz also said at the time that the “ground being wet from snow and motor oil” was a factor in Ortiz ending up on the ground.
The FWPD released a statement in January that said “despite what is depicted from an off-angle perspective, the officer’s actions align with our policies, procedures and training doctrine.”
WANE 15 had previously been denied access to the footage from the arrest for months, and the Indiana Public Access Counselor even issued an opinion on May 3 that the FWPD had violated the Access to Public Records Act by not releasing the bodycam footage.
However, WANE 15 obtained footage from the FWPD on Tuesday in order to provide more context regarding the arrest, and the new video showed bodycam footage from multiple officers at the scene of the crash, including footage from Meraz’s body camera.
A section of the video showed Meraz walk toward Ortiz after speaking with the other people involved in the crash.
Meraz first asks if Ortiz is alright, and he responds with “yeah.”
Meraz then asks again if Ortiz is injured, before Ortiz tells him that he does not speak English.
After a few seconds, Meraz then asks Ortiz in Spanish how many beers he has had, and Ortiz replies “I don’t know” in English.
Following Ortiz’s response, Meraz asks him to turn around in English, and Ortiz complies with the command.
While Ortiz is up against his vehicle, Meraz attempts to place Ortiz in handcuffs and commands Ortiz to “stop” five times before warning Ortiz that “if you move again, you’re going to the ******* ground.”
During that exchange, it is unclear if Ortiz is struggling or attempting to break free due to the body camera being so close to Ortiz.
Meraz then commands Ortiz to “let go of his hands” twice as he attempts to put handcuffs on Ortiz before Meraz takes him to the ground.
After placing Ortiz in a police vehicle, Meraz can be heard in the footage explaining to another officer that “he tensed up on me [and] kept trying to get his hands separated, so I had to take him to the ground and go from there.”
Meraz also can be heard in the footage asking for an officer fluent in Spanish and telling others that Ortiz “doesn’t speak any English.”
At the time of the arrest, the FWPD said authorities offered Ortiz medical attention that he refused.
Following Ortiz’s arrest, authorities charged him with two counts of an OWI with a prior conviction, which is a Level 6 felony.
Court records show there is an active warrant out for Ortiz after he failed to appear in court on May 15.