Hialeah Police Allegedly Mocked Disabled Man and Called Him N-Word Before Arresting Him

Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velazquez
Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velazquez City of Hialeah
In 2015, Elgin Hilliard was involved in an accident at work. His injuries were so severe he now walks with a cane and permanently cannot work. But in 2016, barely a year after the accident, Hialeah Police officers allegedly found him so intimidating they threatened to fire their Tasers at him, accused him of threatening to attack the cops, and screamed racial slurs at him, Hilliard says. He alleges in a federal lawsuit filed yesterday that Hialeah officers made comments about his "black ass," spit on him, and called him the N-word at least once.

"Who's in charge now, boy?” Hilliard says one Hialeah cop, Rene Gutierrez, asked as he handcuffed him. “You hear those police sirens? You’re going to jail now, n*****.” The suit claims Gutierrez then pulled out a Taser and pointed it at Hilliard.

The City of Hialeah does not comment on open lawsuits. But importantly, this is not the first time Gutierrez has been sued for alleged discrimination. Gutierrez is the same Hialeah housing investigator who allegedly kicked a woman out of her Section 8 home because she was practicing Santería inside. The woman, Rosa Cabrera, said that Gutierrez described her home as containing "satanic stuff" and that he allegedly set up phone-recording stings to find out whether she was charging people for tarot card readings. She later sued Gutierrez in 2016 but voluntarily dropped her case the following year.

Hilliard, who is the father of a former Florida International University back-up quarterback, says the ordeal occurred in the view of a city surveillance camera. He says the incident began when he tried to apply for Section 8 housing in 2016. Per the suit, Hilliard applied for assistance with the Hialeah Housing Authority (HHA) in 2014 and was placed on a waiting list. In 2016, he says, the HHA asked him to drop off some new documents in April of that year.

When Hilliard arrived, he says, despite the fact that he walked into the office with a cane, HHA workers accused him of faking his disability and claimed he did not look disabled "in their eyes." He then provided a copy of his legal workers compensation settlement, but employees continued to treat him rudely, he says. After enduring repeated, rude comments from the employees, he asked to file a formal, written complaint, Hilliard says. In response, the HHA called the cops on him.

Eventually, HPD's Gutierrez arrived. Hilliard says Gutierrez accused him of being drunk and/or stoned in public, which Hilliard says was patently untrue. He stresses that he was polite to the officer the entire time — but that Gutierrez took him outside and then claimed he felt "threatened" by Hilliard's walking cane. Hilliard says he responded by leaning the cane against the side of the building. But that somehow did not help matters.

"Mr. Hilliard’s hands were now empty with no objects in them, and he further placed both of his hands behind his back and stood in a non-threatening manner to finish his conversation with Officer Gutierrez," the suit reads. "For unknown reasons, Officer Gutierrez decided Mr. Hilliard was taking a threatening stance and told Mr. Hilliard that he was 'squaring off against' him."

Hilliard says Gutierrez then placed his hand near his waist and that it was unclear whether the officer was reaching for a gun or a Taser. Gutierrez then allegedly asked a black woman in the parking lot whether she arrived with Hilliard that day; when Hilliard tried to say he didn't know her, Gutierrez then said Hilliard was under arrest, he says. There, the racial slurs began, including calling Hilliard "boy" and the N-word while pointing a Taser at him. "Six to eight" Hialeah cops then arrived. Hilliard says he complied and calmly sat inside the back of squad car. But Gutierrez allegedly didn't stop. The suit claims Gutierrez then spit in Hilliard's face.

"If you show back up on this property... your black ass will be sorry!" Gutierrez allegedly shouted. Records show Hilliard was eventually charged with disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer, but the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office dropped the case. In the meantime, Hilliard says, he lost 16 hours of his life sitting in the back of the squad car and stuck inside a jail cell.

Also, he says, the city denied his Section 8 application due to his allegedly "threatening behavior" toward HHA employees. The suit says that Hilliard successfully appealed that ruling but that he still has not received housing assistance and is therefore still homeless.

"Defendant City has been, and continues to be, deliberately indifferent to the promulgation of policies and/or customs insufficient to protect the constitutional rights of the citizenry it is obligated to serve," his suit reads.

To add insult to injury, he says, the city towed his car out of the Housing Authority lot.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.