Monday, June 18, 2018
Public safety

Cameras catch officers flagrantly harassing store patrons

For more than a year, the cameras at 207 Quickstop in Miami Gardens rolled around the clock.

They caught a police officer confronting a frail-looking woman, shoving his hand in her purse, dumping its contents on the pavement, then kicking at the scattered items before walking away.

They were rolling as another uniformed police officer handcuffed a 69-year-old man, then rifled through his pockets and ordered him to sit down while cuffed behind his back, a feat the man could only accomplish by falling on his backside.

There's more footage: An officer grabs a plastic bag full of Red Bull drinks from a man, flinging the cans on the sidewalk, then picking up one and giving it away to someone in a parked car.

It's not like the officers didn't know they were being recorded.

They not only knew, the videos show, but in some cases, they relished it, taunting the store's owner by waving open beer cans and cups, taken from customers, directly in front of the cameras as if the cans were trophies.

The store's owner, together with a group of his customers and employees, is preparing to file a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Miami Gardens police of racial profiling, illegal search and seizure, harassment and intimidation of the store's largely African American employees and customers.

The videos were released four days after the Miami Herald published a story, along with previous clips, that detailed how the city's police officers have stopped and arrested people repeatedly for minor infractions. For years, according to store operator Alex Saleh, officers have illegally frisked and searched his customers and employees in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.

Saleh, who has owned the store at 3185 NW 207th St. for 17 years, installed the cameras in June 2012, not to protect himself from criminals, but to catch cops he said had been abusing his customers' civil rights for years.

Earl Sampson has been arrested 62 times for trespassing, sometimes while he is inside the store, even though he has worked at the store since October 2011. Three videos, previously obtained by the Herald, show officers coming into the store and removing Sampson as he is stocking the coolers or taking out trash. One short clip shows Saleh protesting as Sampson is led away in the middle of his shift.

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but said the videos — some of which were shown to him by the newspaper — are disturbing and disheartening, especially in a city whose leaders are nearly all African American.

He said the city's longtime police chief, Matthew Boyd, would be leaving in short order. Boyd, who is black, advised his bosses in September he planned to step down in January, Gilbert said.

City Manager Cameron Benson, who was appointed in October, has launched an investigation, and Gilbert, a former prosecutor and civil rights attorney, said any officers who violated laws will be disciplined — up to and including being fired.

"I can't be a mayor of a city that's 80 percent black and having officers harass black people for doing nothing,'' Gilbert said. "You can't get arrested for just going to the store.''

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