This Is Not the USA

He thought he was just doing his job and playing by the rules. Then he learned that the rules are very different in the sovereign nation of the Miccosukee.

"You told us not to go on their property and we didn't; we're on the roadway," Bythwood responded as he got out of the truck. O'Neill simply continued to search the truck, and found a shotgun under the seat. (Negron is licensed to carry the firearms, which he does for his safety.) Brooks handcuffed Bythwood and placed him in the back seat of the patrol car next to Negron. Bythwood then asked why he was being arrested. "You're going to have to ask the lieutenant," Brooks reportedly replied, "because this is his show."

Negron says O'Neill told him Sandy Osceola had called the police to say the two men had indeed driven onto his property. Negron protested that they had never left his truck and had never driven onto Osceola's land. "Well, I guess he set you up then," O'Neill replied, according to Negron.

The two were driven to police headquarters and locked in separate holding cells. Both men say they were never told exactly why they were arrested, were not read their Miranda rights, or allowed to make a phone call.

Sitting in their respective cells, Negron and Bythwood grew angrier and angrier. "This is bullshit," Negron kept saying. "This is bullshit!" At one point Police Chief Anthony Zecca walked by. Negron had met him before, and he called out to the chief, begging him to intervene. Zecca said he would check into the matter, but he never came back.

After about five hours, they were loaded back into a squad car and driven by Brooks to the county's Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center at 7000 NW 41st Street. Negron recalls the drive into town as the most harrowing part of the ordeal. Brooks, he says, "was driving about 80 miles per hour."

With the tow truck left behind on the reservation, Negron and Bythwood were each booked on charges of armed trespassing (a felony) and carrying a gun during a repossession (a misdemeanor). Bail for Negron was set at $6000. Bythwood, who faced the additional charge of carrying a concealed weapon without a license, had his bail set at $10,500. Negron managed to post both bonds and they were released that evening.

The next morning Negron went to see a friend, criminal defense attorney Kenneth Weisman, who summoned his own investigator, Richard Mueller, a retired Metro-Dade homicide detective who had been a private investigator for thirteen years. While Negron recounted the events of the previous day, Mueller couldn't help being skeptical. As a former cop he knew it was common for people who are arrested to cry harassment or to level charges of mistreatment by police. Most of the time such complaints were baseless. Recalls Mueller: "I kept thinking to myself, 'Why would the cops bother to hassle a repo man? Why would they care?'" Weisman and Mueller decided the investigator should head out to the reservation that evening to interview the Osceolas and maybe visit a couple of neighbors to determine if they saw anything.

Mueller knocked on the front door of the Osceolas' house and glanced at his watch to mark the time. It was exactly 8:00 p.m. Teresa Osceola opened the door, and after Mueller told her what he was doing, she asked him to wait for a moment while she made a phone call. When she returned, she notified him that she had just called the tribal police and they were on the way. Mueller was incredulous. If Osceola didn't want to speak with him, he told her, all she had to do was say so; she didn't have to call the police. Mueller then handed her his business card and asked her to call him if she changed her mind.

Fearing that he was about to be caught in the same trap that had ensnared Negron the day before, Mueller decided to leave the reservation without talking to anyone else. Just as he reached Krome Avenue he received a message on his cellular phone from his answering service: A Lieutenant O'Neill had just called and wanted to talk to him. O'Neill had apparently gotten his phone number from the business card he left with Osceola. Without stopping his car, Mueller called O'Neill, who was on patrol and carrying his own cell phone. "I understand you were out here beating on doors," O'Neill said, according to Mueller.

"I don't know about beating on doors," Mueller responded, "but I did try to talk to some people."

"Well, what did you want to talk to them about?" O'Neill demanded. "I want to know exactly what it is you want to ask them."

Mueller, who was taken aback by O'Neill's attitude, told the lieutenant he didn't think it was appropriate for him to clear his questions through the police department. But O'Neill wasn't finished. Clearly angry that a private investigator might be asking questions about him, he told Mueller he was now and forever barred from the reservation. "You are on notice," O'Neill reportedly told Mueller. "Don't come out here again." The officer then added that if Mueller disobeyed the command, he would find himself in serious trouble. Mueller couldn't believe what he was hearing. Growing angry himself, he asked O'Neill what he meant by trouble. "You come out here and I'll show you what I mean," O'Neill hissed. "Just come on out here and I'll show you."

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