Charlise Stallworth was driving in Broward County when a City of Miami Police car driven by Sgt. Earnest Lawrence pulled in front of her, activated its emergency lights, and stopped suddenly. Stallworth, driving with her teenage daughter, slammed on the brakes and changed lanes.
Lawrence followed and brake-checked her again, Stallworth says. And again, even after she changed lanes a second time. When she rolled down her window and asked the off-duty officer what the problem was, she says, he called her a bitch and told her to “find somebody to play with.”
Stallworth filed a complaint with the Miami Police Department. In November, Internal Affairs closed out the case after determining Lawrence had erred in only one way: He had Miami-Dade Police Lt. John Barrow in the passenger seat, and MPD policy bars officers from transporting unauthorized people in their patrol cars.
Yet the Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), the city’s independent police oversight board, found that Lawrence’s actions constitute misconduct, discourtesy, and improper procedure, and noted it wasn’t the first time the officer had been accused of getting in front of a driver and slamming on the brakes.
“I could have hit his car,” Stallworth says. “We could have both got into an accident. If he had wanted to get my attention, no problem, I’ll slow down. Don’t stop in front of me and try to have me hurt myself or put myself and you in harm’s way.”
Lawrence, a ten-year veteran of the Miami Police Department who in 2015 won an award for his work, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Stallworth was on her way to her aunt’s house on a Sunday in April of last year when she noticed the Miami Police car. Both vehicles were headed south on Douglas Road, near the intersection with Pembroke Road, when Lawrence first changed lanes to get in front of Stallworth and then hit the brakes.
In a sworn statement, Lawrence told internal affairs investigators he pulled in front of Stallworth’s Mercedes SUV and activated his lights after noticing she was speeding toward an elderly couple crossing the street. He said he told her, “Sweetie, the speed limit is 35,” and she rolled her window up and sped away.
Lawrence continued driving and then changed lanes when his lane became congested. He said Stallworth stopped next to him and cursed at him, so he told her to “find you somebody to play with” and drove away. He denied being unprofessional or discourteous.
Barrow declined to speak to MPD internal affairs investigators. Whether he faced any consequences with his own agency is not known: A spokeswoman with the Miami-Dade Police Department could not immediately say.
In Lawrence's case, MPD internal affairs investigators decided Stallworth’s allegations of discourtesy and unsafe driving could not be substantiated because there was no independent witness to verify them. They substantiated an improper procedure allegation because of the passenger in his car, though it’s not clear whether Lawrence was penalized.
The CIP, however, sustained misconduct, discourtesy, and improper procedure allegations because Lawrence admitted to taking enforcement actions despite being outside his jurisdiction, having an unauthorized person in his police car, and inappropriately calling Stallworth "sweetie" before telling her to find somebody to play with.
The panel also referred to a February 2016 incident in which Lawrence was accused of brake-checking a car and then telling the driver: "I could have made a defensive move."
Stallworth says she’s pleased the CIP found Lawrence was in the wrong.
"That is not how officers are supposed to act," she says, "on duty, off duty, period."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.