Miami cop at People's Bar-B-Que scares patrons

Miguel Rodriguez and his wife, Barbara, were waiting for some barbecue after work on a Friday afternoon late last year when all hell broke loose inside People's Bar-B-Que in Overtown.

A screaming man dressed head to toe in black charged the busy take-out counter, wielding a handgun sideways, gangsta-style. Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade firefighter and former cop, was so terrified he felt chest pains. Other patrons hit the floor and shrieked. Rodriguez had one last thought as he threw his hands in the air: I'm going to get shot.

Not until several bowel-loosening minutes later did the man in black — now surrounded by City of Miami cops — pull out his badge and identify himself as an undercover officer making a bust. After the scene settled down, the cop was "rude and confrontational" and refused to give his name before storming off with his fellow officers, Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez — who says he spent 15 years as a cop in Miami-Dade — filed an internal affairs complaint. Despite multiple witnesses backing him, IA dismissed Rodriguez's complaints, claiming no police record exists of such a raid at People's on November 13.

Now, the Civilian Investigative Panel — the independent body that investigates police complaints — says the undercover officer broke at least three rules in the barbecue joint, and the CIP is demanding answers from the Miami Police Department.

"The police say they have no record of going into this place when at least one officer ran in with a gun drawn and left people diving for the floor and fearing for their lives," CIP member Janet McAliley says. "That's amazing."

Shewanda Hall, the CIP's investigator, found that the cop — still unnamed — broke at least three regulations by not clearly displaying his badge while making the arrest, by refusing to give Rodriguez his name, and by carelessly using his firearm.

McAliley says she hopes the CIP's findings will motivate IA to identify the mystery cop and prevent future raids like the debacle at People's. The MPD declined to comment about the case because a new IA investigation is underway.

"If you hadn't had someone there like Mr. Rodriguez who knew this wasn't right, we would never have heard about this," she says.

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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