Criminal Justice

Overtown Musician Arrested for Filming Miami Police Sues City for $30,000

Emanuel David Williams (right) says he was arrested and punched in the head for recording a Miami Police officer.
Emanuel David Williams (right) says he was arrested and punched in the head for recording a Miami Police officer. Screenshots via Emanuel David Williams / Instagram
For the past two years, musician Emanuel David Williams has maintained that he was pinned to the ground, punched in the head, and arrested by three Miami Police Department (MPD) officers because he had been filming them with his cell phone. Back in September of 2019, when the incident occurred, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence, misdemeanor charges the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office would later drop.

Williams, now 32, recently filed suit against the City of Miami and the three officers — William Gonzalez, Adon Allen, and Nelson Hernandez — on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated, citing excessive force, malicious prosecution, and false arrest and imprisonment, among other counts. The suit seeks damages in excess of $30,000.

"Your officers acted like members of a gang and not of a police force,” Williams' attorney, Ivan Guerrero, wrote in a letter to then-Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina back in January.

According to the September 22, 2019, arrest report, the three officers arrived at Williams' Overtown apartment after his ex-girlfriend asked for assistance with removing some items from their home. The officers do not state in their arrest documents that Williams acted violently toward them — only that he had gotten too close to officer William Gonzalez with his cell phone.

Williams said at the time that he was recording the trio of officers because he wasn't told why he was being forbidden to enter his home.

In the footage Williams captured and later posted to Instagram (the post has since been deleted), he zooms in on the officers' name tags.
"Officer [Nelson] Hernandez and officer [Adon] Allen," Williams asks in one video, "why are you in my face?"

"Because we can be," Allen responds.

As Williams continues recording, focusing the camera on Gonzalez, the officer grows increasingly agitated and asks Williams to stop filming. "Sir, if you put that phone in my face again, we're going to have a problem," Gonzalez tells Williams.

The officers then tell Williams they're giving him a "lawful order" to stand on the sidewalk across the street. After Williams crosses the roadway with his camera pointed at the officers, Gonzalez swats the phone to the ground.

"Do not put the phone in my face!" Gonzalez shouts at Williams before swatting the device from his hand. The phone lands with its camera facing skyward and captures the three officers grabbing Williams and handcuffing him.

"Oh, my God!" Williams screams. The officers yell at him to "stop resisting," to which Williams repeatedly shouts he is not resisting and can't breathe.

In the MPD arrest report, officer Gonzalez wrote that "the defendant then continued to place his cellphone within very close proximity of my face, once again breaching the distance within my reactionary gap, at which point I advised the defendant that he was under arrest."

In his lawsuit, filed last month in Florida's Southern District Court, Williams attests that he was well within his legal right to film the officers. He alleges that the arresting officers threw him to the pavement and kicked and punched him in a "street gang like fashion." (In a 2019 interview, Williams told New Times the officers punched him in the head repeatedly after they tackled him to the ground and that he later experienced symptoms of a concussion.

"They had their way with me," Williams said. "There was nothing I could have done. If I had reacted at all or fought back, I could be sitting in a cell or have been shot dead. The only thing I could do to stay alive was let it happen."

Recording on-duty officers is legal under many circumstances, but people across Florida have landed in jail for doing it. In May of this year, a Florida appeals court upheld the 2009 arrest of a young mother who filmed officers as they detained her son outside a movie theater.

Last month, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Rundle stood beside Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements to announce that five of that city's police officers were being charged with one count of misdemeanor battery for the violent arrest of one suspect and also for tackling and punching a bystander who'd been filming the incident. Following a series of rough arrests, all of which included Black people, the Miami Beach Police Department announced that it would stop enforcing a recently enacted law that made it illegal to stand within 20 feet of officers with the "intent to impede, provoke or harass" them.

Following the 2019 incident with Williams, the Miami Police Department released a statement saying it was investigating the circumstances that led up to the arrest.

“The City of Miami Police Department is aware of a cellular phone video surfacing on social media showing our uniformed officers involved in an arrest with a suspect who was filming,” department spokeswoman Kellia Fallat said at the time. “Our Internal Affairs Section is also aware and investigating the circumstances that led up to the video."

Asked by New Times' to comment about the litigation and whether the officers named as defendants are still employed by the MPD, City of Miami attorney Henry Hunnefeld said he couldn't discuss pending litigation. Responding to a similar request, the MPD told New Times it might take up to a week for its legal department to follow up.
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca