One night back in February, Ricardo Florestal headed to a Party City in Hollywood in search of a costume. But when he got to the store, employees had already started to close up. Florestal says the front door was half-open and one of the workers let him and his friend, Bill Alcius, come inside.
Florestal quickly tried on the costume he was looking for and, at the urging of another employee, hurried to the front, where a cashier rang him up. That's when the cops arrived.
"The police came through the door and said, 'We have a call for a burglary,'" the 21-year-old Florestal recalls.
Despite the fact that Florestal and Alcius had paid and were ready to leave, Hollywood police arrested them both and charged them with trespassing. Florestal and Alcius tell New Times they believe their arrests are a clear case of "shopping while black."
"I felt racially profiled," says Alcius, age 24.
Florestal agrees. "It's like the officers just heard 'two black males' and were so quick to do whatever they want," he says.
The Hollywood Police Department did not respond to a request for comment this week.
According to arrest reports, Hollywood police responded to the store at about 8:39 p.m. after getting a call about two men "who forced their way into the store."
In a video Florestal shot on his cell phone, one of the officers can be heard saying the call had been "canceled" — presumably by Party City staff.
"They called and canceled it. We're here to investigate," the cop says to Florestal. "The doors were locked, you were inside. And we came here and the girl's like, 'No, no, everything's good.' So now we’re checking it out. If they let you in as customers —"
"Yes, they did," Alcius responds.
The officers then start to pat down Florestal.
"I have the right to check you for weapons," one of the cops says. The police then accuse Florestal of resisting.
"I'm resisting what?" he responds. "What am I resisting? What am I resisting?"
Police reports describe Florestal as "verbally confrontational and aggressive" — behavior they considered sufficient grounds to detain him. In the process of doing so, the officers state, Florestal "started to pull and push aggressively," whereupon he was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car.
Florestal was charged with trespassing and resisting an officer without violence.
The officers state that Alcius struck one of them with his shoulder as he was being led outside. He was charged with trespassing, battery, and battery on an officer.
Florestal recently obtained surveillance footage from inside the store that evening. The video shows an officer patting him down as he continues filming with his cell phone. Within seconds, three more cops join in, jerking Florestal's hands behind his back. They physically pull him from the store.
Police next turn their attention to Alcius. As he leaves the store with an officer walking beside him, it appears the two bump shoulders. The officer can be seen smacking Alcius in the head, then grabbing his braids and pushing him out of the frame.
The Hollywood Party City closes nightly at 8:30 p.m. Although affidavits from two employees say Florestal and Alcius were not welcome in the store, a receipt shows that a cashier rang up Florestal at 8:37. Manager Vanessa Clairizier later said in a written statement that the men "forced themselves in" after she told them the store was closed.
Florestal and Alcius, however, insist an employee let them in. Florestal tells New Times that while he was in the back of a police car that night, he heard officers saying they'd coached the employees on what to say in their reports. He says prosecutors have yet to release earlier footage that shows an employee telling him and Alcius it's OK for them to come in.
"If this was a murder case, the whole footage would have come out by now," he says. "This is just shenanigans."
Nevertheless, Florestal says, he's glad there's at least some video of the encounter, which he believes will help vindicate him.
As of now, the case against Florestal is pending in Broward criminal court.
"If we wouldn't have gotten that video, it would have been their words versus our words," he says.
Last week, prosecutors dropped the battery charges against Alcius, who pleaded no contest to trespassing.
According to court records, adjudication will be withheld after Alcius serves a year of probation.