By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Leiva, age 31, was an employee of Miami Beach restaurant the Forge and a singer at Jamboree Lounge on Biscayne Boulevard. He volunteered at local homeless shelter Camillus House and did research for Radio Cadena Univision.
Cops soon arrested Derrick Lamar Evans and Eric Johnson, both of whom fingered the other for Leiva's death. They choked him from behind, near his bedroom, and robbed him of a stereo, according to court documents. They were sentenced to 20 and 12 years, respectively.
Inside Jamboree Lounge, Leiva's boss, Juan Vayas, gestures to a small black stage where Leiva once crooned in Spanish. "Everybody here was so depressed after he died," the businessman recalls in a soft voice. "He was down-to-earth, never drank or smoked... he was so kind."
Although it was obvious to friends and activists that the killers were homophobic, the murder was never classified as a hate crime. The reason: The language of hate crime law is vague, and officers aren't adequately trained to notice and document the signs. (The charge is determined by the State Attorney's Office based on police reports.)
"Unless someone is spray-painting the word fag on your body, they don't consider it a hate crime," says Herb Sosa, president of Unity Coalition of Miami-Dade. In three recent police reports obtained by New Times, little or no reference is made to victims' sexual orientation or to anti-gay slurs.
The state's definition of a hate crime is "intentionally selecting a victim based on... race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation..." Guilty parties are punished more harshly, and the classification sends a strong message: You won't get away with intolerance here. But it's often difficult to prove.
Sosa shakes his head and adds, "Police numbers don't match our numbers, and that's a problem."
In Miami Beach, before 1990, gay bashing was rare. If it happened, few spoke up. One of the first well-publicized cases came in October 1991, when a motorist attacked a gay off-duty Miami Beach Police officer named Ambrose Simms. The officer was on his way to the gay club Sugar's when two men in a late-model car shouted a slur and chucked a beer bottle at his leg. He explained to newspapers he was targeted because of his sexual orientation.
The following year, Miami Beach Police appointed Simms to serve as a liaison for the town's growing gay population. By 1996, officers received sensitivity training they dubbed "a gay-specific lesson in diversity." The department later announced a hate crime hot line was ready to combat the behavior.
It didn't always work. This past fall, a string of gay-bashing incidents began in South Beach. On October 11, a chubby mechanic targeted a gay 31-year-old named Peter Morales on Washington Avenue. According to police reports, Diego Molina-Caceres "began to harass him, touching his hair and calling him names." He punched him in the head, knocked him over, and was then arrested.
Morales, whose boyfriend co-owns Twist nightclub, called the Miami Beach Police Department hot line twice. He got an answering machine. According to Commissioner Victor Diaz, Morales heard nothing back from officers for several days. (Morales did not return New Times' calls seeking comment.)
Others were more outspoken. Says Babak Movahedi, who owns Halo Lounge near Lincoln Road: "It's ridiculous to have a hot line if nobody's going to respond for five days."
Miami Beach Police spokesman Juan Sanchez contends he personally returned the call promptly. The phone "system notifies [me] immediately each time a victim leaves a message," Sanchez says. "He didn't call me back."
Three weeks later, in early November, a gay European tourist was attacked on Collins Avenue and left badly bruised, according to activists. (He did not call police.)
Then, on November 29, passersby found Tony Lopez, the gay makeup artist, lying unconscious on the sidewalk. He has since moved out of his apartment. "South Beach has gotten too ghetto," he says.
Spokesman Sanchez explains Lopez might have provoked the beating by kicking one of the attackers' cars. "A derogatory term does not necessarily constitute a hate crime," he says. "If it smells like one and looks like one, we're gonna report it."
On a warm night this past December, Herb Sosa is giving a speech at a vigil on Lincoln Road. The activist, whose brown locks tend to fall over his face, looks out at the audience, where about 30 people hold glowsticks in memory of murdered victims. "These things shouldn't happen anywhere," he says. "And they certainly shouldn't happen in South Beach."
As the clubs close on a September night in 2005, a man is seen jumping out of a car at the corner of Washington Avenue and Third Street and hurling a bottle of booze at a gay couple. Normally, the incident would go unnoticed. But the witness stands seven feet one inch tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. Shaquille O'Neal — who is training to be a reserve police officer — follows the car until he can flag down a cop, who charges the aggressor with assault. The incident makes national news when it is picked up by the Associated Press and ESPN.
Until the 1980s, Miami Beach was a peculiar mix of criminals, Cubans, and little old ladies. Then the beautiful people moved in.