Insult to Injury

A South Beach restaurant owner says she was wrongly pulled over, then assaulted and ridiculed by Miami Beach cops

Police spokesman Al Boza says that calling paramedics to treat Cunningham was an acceptable procedure.

Juan Rivera, who joined the police force in November 1994 after working as a recreation guard and building attendant for the City of Miami Beach for seven years, was within days of completing his mandatory probationary period when he arrested Gina Cunningham. His personnel file contains several citations for exemplary work and no evidence of prior disciplinary actions. Rivera says department policy prevents him from commenting about the allegations.

Beginning in 1991, when a newly elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from the Haitian presidency, Cunningham and Eves volunteered support for refugees fleeing the military government. Using money Cunningham received as compensation for her cement-truck injuries, they have given aid to more than a dozen Haitians, many of them former political prisoners. In 1992 the couple purchased Tap Tap, then spent the next two years renovating the restaurant, hiring local Haitian artists to decorate the interior. Since Tap Tap opened in 1994, Cunningham has frequently donated the space for poetry readings and meetings of community-based organizations.

She says it's embarrassing to discuss her arrest because it seems so trivial compared to the suffering her Haitian friends have undergone. But in the weeks following the incident, she says, she heard similar stories of abuse at the hands of Miami Beach police officers. "We have money and connections," she explains, "but look at all the other people who end up in this position. What happens to them?

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