Florida police chief resigns amid scandal

Florida police chief resigns amid scandal
# 12 December 2013 23:23 (UTC +04:00)

Boyd, the city’s first and only police chief, had disputed the allegations, which were detailed two weeks ago in a story by the Miami Herald.

The story revealed that members of the force’s specialized crime units routinely stopped, searched and arrested patrons of the 207 Quickstop, a Miami Gardens convenience store just west of Florida’s Turnpike near Sun Life Stadium.

Earl Sampson, 28, a customer who also worked at the store, was stopped by police 419 times over the past five years, city records show. Of those stops, he was cited more than 160 times with trespassing-related offenses. In at least two instances, officers came into the store and hauled him away - for trespassing - while he was in the midst of working.

Records show that besides Sampson, many of the store’s regular customers were questioned hundreds of times and aggressively searched for being “suspicious” or for minor infractions, such as loitering and violating liquor-law ordinances.

Boyd maintained that the officers’ actions were appropriate, given the city’s crime problems. The store is in a high-crime area in need of proactive policing, he said, and residents who live in the surrounding neighborhood frequently complained about the store’s clientele, Boyd said.

But Alex Saleh, who has owned the store for 17 years, became increasingly disturbed by how police were treating his customers. He felt that in some cases, police had no cause to arrest and search people just because they were patrons of his business.

Last year, he filed a complaint with the Miami Gardens Police Department. Shortly thereafter, he said, police activity at his store only intensified. Frustrated at the tensions between police and his customers, Saleh installed a $15,000 video surveillance system and began recording the arrests. The officers were undeterred. Some of them even mugged in front of the cameras, pouring seized open containers of beer on the pavement in full view of the cameras.

Saleh recorded hundreds of hours of film, showing Miami Gardens police officers stopping, frisking and arresting customers who, records show, had committed no serious crime and did not resist arrest.

Other videos show the officers conducting elicit searches of the store without warrants or the permission of the owner.

Boyd’s departure comes as the Florida NAACP and its Miami-Dade branch have called for a federal probe into the city’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has given officers broad powers to arrest people who are trespassing. Critics believe that Miami Gardens’ policy is akin to racial profiling.

“The Miami Gardens community deserves a police department that is committed to stopping crime and preserving justice,” Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida NAACP, said in a statement Thursday. “This is a good first step toward that goal, but hardly the last step. The systematic allegations of police intimidation did not happen because of just one person; they were the result of a sustained lack of oversight.”

City Manager Cameron Benson, in conjunction with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is investigating. MiamiHerald.com