Miami's various police departments clearly don't know how to deal with disabled people. Last week, Miami-Dade County cops were caught on tape handcuffing a legless woman and dropping her on the ground, and in July, a group of City of Miami Police officers was sued for allegedly beating up a 70-year-old man who was blind in one eye.
While it may seem obvious to laypeople that blind adults don't pose a serious threat to public safety, yet another Miami department was sued yesterday for abusing a disabled person, after a blind man was dumped on the side of a rural highway and forced to walk home alone.
Tannie "T-Man" Burke, now 23, was born without the ability to see out of his left eye. He can only see shadows out of his right. He's legally blind.
But Burke was infamously arrested in 2014 along with two other men on misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges, which were later dropped. In a cell phone video shared around Miami, Burke's stepfather was heard shouting "He's blind, dumbass!" at county police as they arrested Burke.
This didn't stop the officers from eventually leaving Burke alone in the dark on the side of a rural highway, where he reportedly encountered more than 20 cars before a good Samaritan helped him home. Burke could have easily been killed, but in November, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office declined to charge any of the officers involved in the case.
"The officers' actions are symptomatic of the conduct of MDPD police officers in the area where Tannie lives," the suit says. "In fact, CBS Channel 4 ... conducted an investigation of the so-called plain-clothes-garbed 'Crime Suppression Unit' and found that the MDPD consistently discriminates [against] and harasses African Americans in Tannie's neighborhood."
Burke's lawyer, Joseph Klock, tells New Times that a group of Miami-Dade officers has routinely harassed Burke's stepfather, Martin Armstrong, for repeatedly filming them.
"T-Man’s stepfather takes videos and regularly films them, and they regularly arrest him," Klock says, adding that he feels Burke was arrested as retribution for Armstrong's (legal) actions.
At around 8:30 p.m. on August 27, 2014, four plainclothes cops arrested a trio of young black men in their twenties in South Miami-Dade county. The cops said they saw the men passing around a joint, and claimed to have found said joint on the ground when they approached the group of guys.
But while the two men with full use of their eyes were released on the scene, after signing tickets promising to appear in court, the police instead decided to shove Burke into a police cruiser.
In a cell phone video from the scene, Burke's stepfather can be heard asking the officers multiple times why they decided to detain "T-Man."
"I didn't do nothing!' Burke shouts while handcuffed and sitting on a stoop.
The lawsuit, meanwhile, says there "is no way of looking at Tannie's face and his affect without being alerted to the fact that he has a physical disability." But the suit says that when the cops tried to place Burke in the car, he hit the side of the cruiser, since he couldn't see. The officers arrested him anyway.
The suit then says the officers needlessly drove Burke around town, riding around aimlessly while telling Burke his stepfather has "a loud mouth."
Eventually, Burke says the cops told him to get out of the car, and asked him to sign a document promising to appear in court. Burke said he couldn't read the piece of paper. The cops, demonstrating a clear lack of understanding as to what the word "blind" means, then shone a flashlight on the page. Burke still couldn't see anything.
At this, the suit says the cops drove him to a "dark, secluded, rural street without any lighting and dropped Tannie off on the edge of some darkened farmland tract miles from his house. It was pitch black dark." The cops dumped Burke out at the intersection of SW 137th Avenue and SW 260th Street, miles from his home.
Burke allegedly asked to be dropped at a bus stop or back in his neighborhood, which the cops allegedly refused to do.
"For the better part of an hour Tnanie threaded his way along the side of the road, following the edge of asphalt or the white stripe to maintain direction, as he sought to find his way home, a blind man, unfamiliar with his location," the suit says. "As he walked, he was in constant danger of being hit by vehicles or attacked by criminals."
Jaw-droppingly, the suit says a different police car drove up to him, asked if he needed help, but just drove away and left him there. But eventually, someone noticed him fumbling his way through the street and helped him home.
But in what appears to be a consistent trend for Miami cops accused of wrongdoing, county State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle declined to charge the officers, Clifton Barton and Julio Martos, with a crime. The state attorney's office said it could not know for sure whether the cops knew Burke was blind, despite his clear facial deformities.
So, with no other option, Burke has sued the county and the two cops involved for false arrest, violating his right to due process, and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Tannie deserves to be compensated for his inexplicable and savage treatment by Baldwin and Martos," the suit says.
Klock, the lawyer, meanwhile says that while the county's Internal Affairs investigation is still open, he and Burke feel the only way to convince the department to weed out its bad applies is to hit the officers in their wallets.
"I'm a firm believer that the reason why air safety is so safe today isn't because of the FAA, it's because of the insurance companies, who have to pay a huge premium if something goes wrong," Klock says. "If you can eventually get the insurance companies to crack down on these cops," he says, maybe they'll start acting better.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"We deserve better," Klock added.
Here's a copy of the suit: