Miami Beach Cop Fired For Harassing Gay Tourist Gets His Job Back

In 2009, a gay tourist in South Beach noticed two men in plainclothes roughing up another gay man in Flamingo Park. He called 911 and stayed on the line until suddenly the two men noticed him, approached, demanded an ID and started beating him and yelling that he "looked like a fag." Those two men were Beach cops named Eliut Hazzi and Franklin Forte and both of them were fired over the incident as the city paid the tourist a $75,000 settlement amidst an ACLU lawsuit.

Now, thanks to Miami Beach's police union, Hazzi's got his job back. That's despite the fact that the Strickland case wasn't Hazzi's only brush with trouble on a beat job that paid him six figures.

See also:
-- Miami Beach Cops Are Paid Up to $225,000 and Face Lawsuits Galore

Hazzi got his job back yesterday thanks to a ruling from an independent arbiter, reports the Miami Herald's David Smiley.

The union argued that Hazzi and Forte had been scapegoats for a department under pressure from gay activists and others last summer in the wake of a series of embarrassing scandals, including Officer Derek Kuilan's drunken ATV joyride that nearly killed a couple on the beach.

The arbiter agreed, and ordered the department to reinstate Hazzi. "He's very eager to get back to work and put this all behind him," Sgt. Alejandro Bell, the union president, tells the Herald.

But Hazzi's issues go deeper than the 2009 case involving the gay tourist, Harold Strickland. Hazzi was one of a number of officers featured in a New Times investigation that year into the department; we found that he'd made $108,371 the prior year and had also been accused of abusing a shop owner.

Here's the key passage on Hazzi:

On March 2, 2008 -- about a year before his encounter with Strickland -- Hazzi was involved in another ugly incident. Santos Ordoñez, the manager of Gallery Deja Vu on Ocean Drive, had gone out with friends after work and had a few beers. A little after 11 p.m., he returned to the gallery for his car keys and accidentally set off the security alarm. He called the gallery owner and the security company, but police responded anyway.

The officers -- Hazzi and two others -- burst in with a police dog and hit him in the face, Ordoñez says. The blow was strong enough to break several teeth. After wrestling the manager into a police car, the cops zapped him with a stun gun, Ordoñez claims. "They never even gave me a chance to explain who I was," he says.

IA exonerated all three officers of charges of excessive force. The then-26-year-old Hazzi was back on the streets and eventually partnered with Forte.

That March night in 2009, Strickland stayed on the line with a 911 dispatcher as he watched the young suspect get roughed up. As he described the beating to an operator, he suddenly sounded confused, adding, "They're coming after me." Hazzi and Forte forced him to lie on the ground, Strickland says. Then one of them said, "We know what you're doing here. We're sick of all the fucking fags in the neighborhood."

In their arrest report, Forte and Hazzi say they watched Strickland trying to open multiple car doors and looking suspicious. Strickland initially pleaded no contest to loitering and prowling charges so he could leave the lockup. But he later successfully withdrew the plea with the ACLU's help.

In addition to the contradictory 911 calls, ACLU lawyer Rob Rosenwald says the two officers gave him false depositions about the arrest.

Now, Hazzi's back on the beat. It's not the ending that Strickland -- a former Beach resident who says he was traumatized by his beating at Flamingo Park that night -- was hoping to see.

"I still care about Miami Beach. It breaks my heart that this is how the department treats gay men here," he told New Times in 2009. "There need to be some serious changes in the department."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink