Eric Rowe had a bad feeling. It was the night of November 8, and the bulky bodyguard had been hired to protect A$AP Rocky during his concert at the Fillmore Miami Beach. All day, the rapper had been receiving threatening tweets from supporters of his local rival, SpaceGhostPurpp. During the concert, Purpp's crew began shouting at the stage. Rowe, an Army veteran, advised off-duty Miami Beach police officers to clear a path to Rocky's tour bus.
But when Rowe and his crew tried taking Rocky out the back door, Purpp's crew jumped the gate. Fists flew. Then came the gunshots -- crack, crack, crack. By the time cops secured the scene, the shooter was gone. The crowd had fled. So whom did officers arrest?
"The cops were on the ground, hiding, while my guys stood over them, protecting them," Rowe claims. "We're supposed to be on the same side. Instead, we got thrown into jail."
No one disputes the fact that three members of Rowe's Rotek Inc. security team pulled their pieces that night. But whereas police accuse the bodyguards of "pointing the firearm[s] at the crowd" and ignoring orders to holster them, Rowe says they simply pulled them in case the shootout escalated. "They didn't point them at anybody," Rowe says, adding that the bodyguards all had licenses for their guns.
"As soon as the shooting stopped, I reholstered," adds Soni Baptiste, a hulking 32-year-old bodyguard who looks a bit like a Haitian LeBron James. "Then I went to help the officer on the floor."
Within minutes, dozens of squad cars swarmed the Fillmore parking lot. Lt. Wayne Jones ordered cops to round up all the guns at the scene, including those of the bodyguards. "They had an investigation to do, I understand that," Rowe says.
But he and his fellow bodyguards were stunned when Jones suddenly called for officers to "arrest all security." Police handcuffed Baptiste, Miguel Muñoz, and a six-foot-six, 500-pound man-mountain named Norman "Tiny" Reaves. The charge: "improperly exhibiting a deadly weapon."
Rowe told Jones that he was making a mistake, but the lieutenant allegedly shot back that he had a master's degree and knew what he was doing. Meanwhile, officers had huddled around a car to gawk at the bodyguards' customized weapons, including Rowe's AR-15 with special grips and a laser scope. "They were acting like children," says Ben Gilbert, another bodyguard.
When Rowe said he'd be happy to show the cops how to trick out their own weapons that weekend once they let his men go, Jones supposedly snapped, "Arrest this clown." Rowe was rung up on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence and sent to jail.
The charges against Rowe, Baptiste, and Muñoz were quickly dropped. Reaves refused to accept community service and will go to trial tomorrow. But the bodyguards say the ordeal is far from over. Six months later, they have yet to get back more than $1,000 of equipment, including ammunition, knives, flashlights, and gun scopes.
Deputy Chief Mark Overton says Rowe's complaint is under investigation. He says cops did the best they could with " a pretty chaotic incident."
"You have to look at things through the prism of common sense," he says. "Officers responding to a shots-fired call. They never had subject description... Maybe the bodyguards did come to the aid of officers. But we still didn't know where the shots came from. When we got there, we had to lock down that scene as tight as we could and sort things out."
Overton adds that all confiscated weapons were cataloged and will be eventually returned. But Rowe remains furious. He says he intends to sue.
"This was a pissing contest between the head of security and a police lieutenant, and he wanted to prove he had a bigger dick by sending me to jail," he says.
"This was a war crime to me," says the former soldier. "This is cops turning on the guys who were just covering their asses."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.