The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has moved forward on their lawsuit against the city of Miami Beach by officially filing the suit in federal court today. The complaint stems from a 2009 incident in which Harold Strickland, an openly gay former resident of the city, was wrongfully arrested after calling 911 to report that police officers were beating a handcuffed man near Flamingo Park. While the suit only concerns the single incident, the ACLU claims it highlights disturbing trends in the Miami Beach Police Department of "unlawfully targeting gay men for arrest without probable cause and harassing and arresting people who observe, document, and/or report police misconduct."
Stickland witnessed two officers, Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi, beating and kicking a downed gay man in handcuffs. Strickland called to report the attack to 911 but Forte and Hazzi then arrested Strickland while allegedly verbally abusing him.
"Gay men have been reportedly targeted by Miami Beach police near Flamingo Park for decades. Often, police target gay men walking near Flamingo Park for nothing more than looking 'too gay'," said Robert Rosenwald, Director of the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocacy Project in a statement. "When police officers become the problem rather than the solution, the City needs to take action. Strickland fulfilled his civic duty by reporting what he recognized as police misconduct, but as a result he became the subject of verbal abuse and wrongful arrest."
Flamingo Park has a history of being a "cruising spot" for men looking to get off with other men, though that reputation has faded away in recent years.
The ACLU had originally notified Miami Beach it planned to suit back in February and police chief Carlos Noriega agreed to meet with the city's GLBT leaders.
"With the exception of the case that re-emerged last week, I have not had an incident like this cross my desk in three years," he said at the time. "I didn't see this coming or realize this was a problem [with the gay community]."
Members of the GLBT community say that problem is wider spread than Noriega seems to be aware of.
The ACLU claims that Noriega had made some reforms, but not nearly enough.
More than six months ago the ACLU gave notice of its intent to sue (as required by state law), and provided the City with detailed information evidencing gross misconduct by the police department and the officers in this case. At that time, the ACLU demanded that the Miami Beach Police Department institute immediate remedial action to halt the harassment, intimidation, and arrest of gay men near Flamingo Park and individuals who observe, document or report police misconduct. The ACLU also called on the City to discipline officers Hazzi and Forte for their misconduct.
The group claims that Hazzi and Forte have not been reprimanded as of yet, and not, as previously reported, put on desk leave. The group is also concerned with the fact Strickland was arrested in retaliation for reporting police misconduct.
"All people have a clear constitutional right and a civic duty to report police misconduct. When police start arresting people for reporting police misconduct, the public's faith in law enforcement suffers," said Ray Taseff, ACLU cooperating attorney in a statement.