Festering Wounds

Hostility among Haitians crops up in Miami

Doumic Romain sneered when he read a recent op-ed piece in the Miami Herald by Miami Police Chief John Timoney touting the department's recent role helping Haiti's interim government assess security in Port-au-Prince. "He talks about providing a safe environment for Haitian citizens," the 42-year-old amateur filmmaker said. "Yet he has Haitian-American cops who harass and falsely arrest Haitian Americans in Miami. It's a joke, man."

Romain maintains this happened to him November 3, 2003, when he was filming a documentary about the tenth annual Haitian Rasin Festival at Bayfront Park. He was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence, charges ultimately dropped or refuted. Now Romain wants Miami's Citizen Investigative Panel, the city's independent body charged with investigating citizen complaints of police abuse, to admonish the police officer who busted him. "He arrested me because I wanted to get his badge number," Romain said. "He wanted to emasculate me."

The officer he is referring to is Stanley Jean-Poix, a six-year veteran of the Miami Police Department, who patrols Little Haiti. According to Romain, he had permission from Hamler Rodney Noel, one of the event's promoters, to film backstage during the 2003 festival. Armed with two digital video cameras, a zoom lens, and battery chargers, Romain was heading toward the side of the Bayfront Park Amphitheater's stage when he was confronted by Jean-Poix, who was working off-duty but in uniform. Jean-Poix denied him access to the backstage area even though he was wearing a staff T-shirt and wristband.

Doumic Romain says intraregime violence and class tension have jumped 
from Haiti to Miami
Jonathan Postal
Doumic Romain says intraregime violence and class tension have jumped from Haiti to Miami

The filmmaker's camera was rolling but not trained on the officer. A microphone picked up Jean-Poix's verbal exchange with Romain. Jean-Poix, in a deep baritone, repeatedly asked him if he wanted to go to jail: "I'm gonna take your ass to jail. I told you, you need a pass. I don't want to hear nothing else. Don't run up on me."

Romain retreated and searched for Jean-Poix's supervisor. When he couldn't find the supervisor, Romain said, he returned to the side of the stage to obtain the officer's badge number. "When he saw me, he grabbed me and threw me to the ground," Romain alleged. "Six other police officers jumped in. I had knees on my head and back. My arms were twisted, and I was forced to sit awkwardly in a puddle of water for nearly two hours."

Guy Michel, a witness who testified on Romain's behalf, said he saw the cameraman put his hands in the air when Jean-Poix went to arrest him. "He didn't look like he was resisting," Michel said.

March 29, 2004, Romain was acquitted on the disorderly conduct charge. Judge Karen Mills-Francis withheld adjudication on the resisting arrest misdemeanor and ordered Romain to pay a $201 fine. Michel said Jean-Poix and Noel tried to intimidate Romain and him after the hearing. "Jean-Poix told me I had a big mouth," Michel remarked.

Romain appealed to Mills-Francis to reconsider her ruling. She granted his request, and he was retried on the resisting arrest count September 7, 2004. This time he was acquitted because Jean-Poix was a no-show. Following the dismissal, Romain filed a complaint with Miami Police Department Internal Affairs and the CIP. The IA complaint was closed after investigator José Gonzalez said he could not reach Romain. The CIP is reviewing Romain's complaint, said Charles Mayes, the panel's independent counsel.

In his complaint Romain accused Jean-Poix of being part of the "Tonton Macoutes ruling class living in Miami who continue to abuse and terrorize the Haitian people at home and abroad." During his heyday, Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier relied on the brutal Tonton Macoutes, his personal police force of loyal unpaid volunteers, to scare the Haitian citizenry into submission. The Tonton Macoutes, Kreyol for "bogeymen," were officially disbanded in 1986 but have haunted their countrymen through several blood-soaked upheavals, including the recent toppling of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government.

Stanley Jean-Poix is the son of Antonio Jean-Poix, the former Miami consul general of Haiti during the military governments of Henri Namphy and Prosper Avril from 1986 through 1991, after the coup d'état against Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. The elder Jean-Poix was also a lieutenant for the Haitian police during the Duvalier regimes. Romain alleged that Antonio intimidated and terrorized Haitians in Port-au-Prince, Port-de-Paix, Inche, and Chiotte before going into exile. "Stanley Jean-Poix seems to have a genetic disposition toward violence and abuse," Romain grimaced.

During a recent interview, Officer Jean-Poix flatly denied Romain's accusations. "In short his allegations are completely false," he said. "I don't know what his problem is with me. He was giving me a hard time, so I had to arrest him." Jean-Poix added Romain was an instigator outside the courtroom. "He was yelling that he was going to put a vodou curse on me," he explained.

According to Jean-Poix, he had asked the festival organizer, Larry Pierre, if the filmmaker was allowed backstage. "I was going to let him go, but Dr. Pierre said he didn't know the guy," Jean-Poix said. Pierre runs the Center for Haitian Studies, a nonprofit group that helps Haitian Americans infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The center puts on the Rasin Festival to raise money for its mission.

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