Miami Cops Accused of Choking Youth Mentor After Already Catching Burglary Suspect Next Door

City of Miami Police
Around 1:30 a.m. January 16, 2016, the Miami Police Department received a call from a security service warning that a black man dressed conspicuously in a "teal long-sleeve shirt with pattern pants" used an ax to break into a Family Dollar store on NW 17th Street in Allapattah.

Yet within the hour, somehow two cops had placed Lyndon Gray — a music teacher wearing a black T-shirt and jeans — into a chokehold and thrown him into a police cruiser. The teacher for at-risk kids is now suing the department, saying MPD officers nearly killed him — all, he alleges, because he was black and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"The only thing Gray had in common with the suspect was that he was an African-American male," Gray's suit reads. "In fact, forty-seven percent of the population in the area is African-American."

Astoundingly, Gray contends in his suit that MPD had already caught the teal-clad burglar — a man named Timothy Dorch — and were waiting to review the store's security footage to match his ID when cops allegedly assaulted Gray and tossed him in the back of a squad car for two hours. Gray's lawyer, Faudlin Pierre, tells New Times that he and Gray didn't learn about Dorch until Pierre filed a records request nearly a year after the incident. He says his jaw dropped when he realized MPD had arrested two people for committing one crime.

"We later confirmed through surveillance video that my client was not involved in the crime," Pierre says. "They arrested him just because he asked for help."

Gray is suing the department and four officers — Shawn Covert, Charles Chester, Kevin Harrison, and Giojani Bello — on claims of false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and violating his rights to free speech.

The Miami Police Department does not comment on open lawsuits filed against it. But according to the suit, Gray worked as a volunteer saxophone teacher at the Motivational Edge, a nonprofit youth-outreach program located next door to the Family Dollar. (Gray also has a media production degree from Howard University and runs the nonprofit Erace the Hate, which promotes nonviolence and racial tolerance.) In the wee hours of that January 2016 morning, Gray's car was parked in front of the two buildings — a friend dropped him off by his vehicle around 2:15 a.m.

But as he was about to unlock his car door to go home, he says, an MPD officer holding a gun exited the Family Dollar and shouted at Gray to cross the street. He says he complied but then shouted across to the cops asking if they could help him get to his car and leave. Gray says the officers were upset that he interrupted them — and says they retaliated by accusing him of being a robbery suspect.

"Defendants informed Gray that he fit the description of someone in the area who had just committed a crime," the suit says. "Defendants made this misrepresentation despite the fact that Gray was wearing a black shirt and solid color blue jeans (i.e., no patterns)."

Gray says he tried to explain what he was doing on the block at 2 a.m. and that he was a music teacher simply trying to get to his car. He says the officers responded by telling him he was being detained. Gray says he attempted to reason, but after he received no response, he told them: "This stuff is the reason why the police are in the news. I didn’t do anything.”

He claims his comment set the officers off: The suit says the group of cops "immediately rushed Gray and pushed him against the fence. One of the Defendants placed Gray into a chokehold until he could no longer breathe. At no point did Gray resist the officers’ arrest. At this moment, Gray feared for his life and felt as if he was going to die."

For decades, chokeholds have been widely discouraged by police-reform advocates, who say they are overwhelmingly applied against black suspects and can be fatal. The New York City Police Department famously banned chokeholds in 1993, after then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly blamed the practice for needless deaths. But the illegal use of chokeholds never stopped. In 2014, an NYPD cop choked Staten Island resident Eric Garner, a black man, to death for selling loose cigarettes on the street. Garner's death was filmed, and his cries of "I can't breathe!" before dying have become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists.

Miami cops have also accidentally maimed or killed people using chokeholds. In 1993, the city paid out a $7.5 million settlement after a group of MPD cops beat Antonio Edwards, a black man. Then-Officer Carl Seals choked Edwards, who passed out from oxygen loss. The officers provided no medical treatment on the scene; Edwards lapsed into a coma and never awoke.

Thankfully, Gray survived his alleged ordeal. But he says he was still kept handcuffed in a cop car for hours despite the fact that MPD officers had already arrested Dorch, the real suspect, around 3 that morning. Gray wasn't released from MPD custody until 9:30 that night. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer without violence. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office later dropped all charges.
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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.

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