Miami International Airport
Miami International Airport

BuzzFeed Reporter Says Miami-Dade Cops Arrested Him at Airport for Trying to Help Fellow Passenger

Andrew Kimmel had just walked off a five-hour flight from Los Angeles to Miami International Airport when he noticed the woman he'd sat next to on the plane being questioned by police. When he stopped to ask if everything was OK, police told him to back off. Concerned for the woman's well-being, Kimmel didn't leave. That's when cops arrested him.

Kimmel says the cops had no justifiable reason to cuff him that day and adds that prosecutors agreed, because they quickly dropped the charges. Now he's suing Miami-Dade County for negligence, false imprisonment, and battery for the October 23, 2013 arrest.

"Police officers are prohibited from arresting individuals without probable cause to reasonably believe that an individual has committed a crime," Kimmel's lawyer, Curt Obront, writes in the complaint. The law has clearly established, Obront writes, that “the freedom of individuals to verbally oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state."

Kimmel is now head of live video for BuzzFeed News, though at the time of his arrest he was working as a producer on reality series The Bachelor, according to his LinkedIn profile. (He did not respond to messages from New Times regarding the lawsuit.) The way he tells it in his lawsuit, police were waiting at MIA as his flight from Los Angeles deplaned because there'd been an incident between some intoxicated passengers onboard. The woman he was sitting next to was one of several passengers police questioned about the incident.

But Kimmel says he worried for the woman's safety, which is why he continued to stand several feet away while police questioned her — close enough for him to observe the woman and the officers. But Kimmel says Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Chris Smith objected to Kimmel's observing the interview even though it was in the middle of a public terminal and quickly arrested him. Kimmel says Smith slapped cuffs on his wrists so tightly they left cuts. He has since lost all feeling in his left thumb due to permanent nerve damage, he claims.

(MDPD confirmed Smith still works for the department; it has a policy of not commenting on ongoing lawsuits.)

In an arrest report after the incident, Miami-Dade Police Officer Will Burmeister lays out essentially the same facts as the reporter. Burmeister writes that Burmeister told the police that "he was not involved in the altercation, however he was worried about a fellow intoxicated passenger. I advised him that the situation was under control and to leave the immediate area.

"After several requests for the defendant to leave, he moved away several feet. Sergeant Chris Smith responded to the gate and was advised that the defendant was not a part of the original disturbance," Burmeister wrote.

Smith then gave "loud and verbal commands" for Kimmel to leave the area, but he stayed put. That's when Smith arrested him. (At the time, Smith was under investigation by the State Attorney's Office for fatally shooting a 22-year-old man six times outside his friend's funeral. The State Attorney's Office later concluded the man had been firing a gun at gang rivals at the funeral and that Smith was legally justified to shoot him.)

After his arrest, Kimmel spent the night in Miami-Dade County Jail on charges of disorderly intoxication. Three months later, on January 13, 2014, the State Attorney's Office dismissed the charges.

Now in court, Kimmel's attorney argues that Smith arrested his client without probable cause and that Smith's use of force was "objectively unreasonable" and "clearly excessive under the circumstances." The case is set for trial in state court September 20.

"My client and I are looking forward to our day in court, where we are confident justice will prevail," Obront says.

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