Bernard Williams was driving down busy Washington Avenue when a trio of police officers stopped him and ordered him to turn down his car's radio. But while reaching for the volume control, he accidentally turned it up.
That mistake, says Williams, who is black, enraged the Miami Beach Police officers and set off a brutal beatdown laced with racial epithets. Though he says he did nothing wrong, he was hauled off to jail and charged with a noise ordinance violation and resisting arrest — charges that were ultimately resolved in his favor.
Williams is now suing the City of Miami Beach and the three officers involved in the May 26, 2013 incident. In a complaint filed last month in Miami-Dade County circuit court, he claims he was falsely arrested and imprisoned, as well as subjected to excessive force.
The City of Miami Beach does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Melissa Berthier says.
According to the complaint, the volume of Williams' radio was turned up for just a brief moment before he lowered it. But that was apparently long enough to anger Det. Leon Azicri, who told Williams to “put the fucking car in park; you are going to jail.”
Before Williams could remove his seatbelt, Sgt. Charles Weiss “yanked him out of the car, spun him around, and, without provocation, smashed his face into the roof of his vehicle, causing him to lose a dental cap.” Then he punched Williams in the torso, he claims.
The other officers circled Williams, grabbed him, and threw him to the ground, where they continued the assault, kicking and punching him and slamming his face into the pavement.
“Williams was, at this point, screaming in pain and begging the officers to stop,” the complaint says. “The response was one of the officers telling him, ‘Your black ass is faking, n——-,’ and the physical abuse continued.”
While handcuffed and being led to the transport van, Williams says, he stumbled, and Sgt. James Nolan punched him in the face. The officers then tore Williams’ car apart “under the guise of a search,” the complaint says, and found nothing.
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Later, when Williams went to the police station to look into filing an internal affairs (IA) complaint, he claims Nolan walked through the lobby and blew a kiss at him before leaving. Nolan returned with several other officers, including Weiss, who according to the complaint told him: “You fuck-ass n——-, you’re talking to IA, I will fuck you up.”
The officers followed Williams out of the building, continuing to sling the N-word and telling him they “don’t tolerate” people talking to IA.
Williams is still traumatized by the encounter, though he’s trying to move past it, says his attorney, Michael Feiler. After being intimidated while trying to file an internal affairs complaint, he thought filing the suit was “the only way to get justice.”
“I’m very sensitive to the jobs police officers have to do,” Feiler says. “It’s a tough job, it’s a dangerous job, but with the authority that they have comes a responsibility to exercise it reasonably. And when they don’t do that, people can get very seriously hurt, and there has to be accountability.”