James Eric McDonough, a South Miami-Dade activist with a doctorate in organic thermochemistry, has received little but trouble since reporting a Homestead Police officer for speeding in 2012. He's been thrown out of public meetings, harassed, and even had to sue Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle for threatening to arrest him for recording a conversation with Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle.
McDonough beat Rundle in court earlier this summer, and now he's going after a huge portion of the Homestead, Miami-Dade County, and Monroe County police forces. This past Friday, McDonough
McDonough says all of this happened simply because he tried to stop a Homestead cop from speeding. On October 24, 2012, McDonough saw Homestead Police Officer Alejandro Murgido driving recklessly around the neighborhood they shared — in fact, Murgido ran him off the road, McDonough says. He stopped the officer and told him he would file a complaint against him. That comment, the suit claims, is what sparked a coordinated harassment campaign that has continued to this day.
Representatives from the Homestead and Miami-Dade Police Departments, as well as the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, did not immediately respond to messages from New Times. McDonough has filed three other federal lawsuits in the past two years. He settled a 2015 case against MDPD (after he says he was blocked from commenting on the MDPD Facebook page) and won his suit against Rundle. He filed a similar harassment suit against the same group of officers in October 2016, but that case was dismissed in July after he failed to file motions on time.
There's no debate that police have repeatedly thrown McDonough out of meetings and filed stalking charges against him. The cops maintain he's an agitator devoted to bothering officers and making them look bad.
But McDonough, who works for the federal government, maintains that the stalking charges have always been baseless and that he's simply been retaliated against for trying to reform Homestead cops.
The activist's new suit details exactly how he claims the police have coordinated to go after him as a result of his work. McDonough says the problems began when he walked back into his house after threatening to file a complaint against Murgido; the suit claims the cop followed McDonough and threatened to arrest him.
"Dr. McDonough had traveled approximately 700 feet before Murgido got into his police cruiser and chased Dr. McDonough down," the suit says. "Murgido raced his cruiser towards Dr. McDonough, slammed on brakes right behind Dr. McDonough, and demanded that Dr. McDonough stop or he would be arrested. Further, Murgido stated that Dr. McDonough 'better not mess with cops.'"
A Monroe County officer, Luis Gomez, lived across the street in the same neighborhood. McDonough says Gomez witnessed the entire event, got into his own cruiser, and "unlawfully detained McDonough" as other officers from Monroe and Miami-Dade County Police arrived and told him to "mind his business." McDonough says Homestead cops also arrived even though the incident didn't even happen in their jurisdiction.
McDonough said that the incident sparked "acute anxiety-induced tachycardia, high blood pressure, and a severe anxiety attack" and that he's suing the officers involved for false imprisonment, civil rights violations, and multiple other charges.
But the 96-page lawsuit doesn't end there. McDonough alleges that eight days after the incident, he sought help for his panic attacks at an urgent-care clinic. He claims the doctor told him he was calling an ambulance but instead called the cops, told the officers McDonough was "psychotic" and "schizophrenic," and needed to be committed to a mental institution against his will under the state's Baker Act.
The suit claims the physician "later admitted that the medical report he prepared was false in many ways... Both medical and police reports state that Dr. McDonough was cooperative and not a threat of harm to self or others." Instead of helping him, though, McDonough says, the urgent-care doctor instead called Homestead police, who continued to harass him over the previous speeding incident.
The trouble continued in 2013, McDonough says, when he was carried out of a Miami-Dade County Police Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting for bringing up the speeding incident again. On February 12 of that year, McDonough says, he stood up and said he wanted to file an internal affairs complaint against the MDPD officers who came to his house and threatened to arrest him in 2012. Instead, McDonough says, two cops "removed him" from the public meeting, detained him for 20 to 30 minutes, and tried to scare him to prevent him from filing the complaint.
(If that sounds improbable, in 2016, WSVN reported that McDonough had been carried out of other public meetings in Homestead multiple times for demanding the department institute a body-camera program.)
Three days later, McDonough says, Murgido, the cop he says he caught speeding, filed a false police report accusing him of felony stalking and "corruption." McDonough says the charges were totally baseless and claims Murgido actually stalked him by illegally searching his private information in the police license-plate data bank, the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID).
In April 2013, Murgido accused McDonough of trespassing on his property, but McDonough says that he recorded the entire incident on his phone and that the recording proves nothing illegal happened. On April 15 of that year, McDonough was arrested on felony charges of aggravated stalking and "corruption through threats." He says he was arrested without a warrant, thrown into the back of a car without a seatbelt, and subjected to what police call a "rough ride" or "nickel ride," in which cops slam on the breaks and jerk the
"Dr. McDonough was then transported to a Miami-Dade jail facility where he was embarrassed and humiliated further," the suit says. "Dr. McDonough was forced to strip naked, bend over, and manually spread his butt cheeks and cough while a guard was observing. This was in a room with an open door, while people were walking past and observed him in this manner." The charges were later dropped.
In February 2014, McDonough then met with Chief Rolle of the
McDonough says the Homestead, Miami-Dade, and Monroe County police departments repeatedly refused to let him file complaints against multiple officers, which would be a violation of departmental policies. Instead, McDonough says, he was forced to put his evidence and video recordings online — and that, once he did so, Rolle tried to arrest McDonough for "felony wiretapping."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
McDonough then said Rolle contacted the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office, which threatened to arrest McDonough if he ever recorded Rolle again without the chief's consent. McDonough sued Rundle and won earlier this summer after a federal appellate court ruled she had illegally threatened to jail McDonough. (He also says Rolle destroyed public records vital to his complaint; this isn't the first time the chief has been accused of doing so.)
In the meantime, McDonough says, officers from all three departments published false statements about his mental health on the police forum LeoAffairs.com:
Those false statements include claims that 1) Dr. McDonough is aggressive or combative; 2) Dr. McDonough is “psychotic;” 3) Dr. McDonough is a “schizophrenic” who is delusional; 4) Dr. McDonough considers himself a “sovereign citizen;” 5) Dr. McDonough is threatening and aggressive; 6) Dr. McDonough and his wife are crazy; 7) Dr. McDonough “has a history of clinically diagnosed mental health problems;” 8) Dr. McDonough is a “Baker Act,” who stalks police; 9) Dr. McDonough committed/commits theft of government property/resources; 10) Dr. McDonough was committed to a mental institution because V. McDonough sleeps with cops; and 11) that Dr. McDonough’s children are not his because V. McDonough sleeps with cops.
In addition to a litany of other claims, he's also suing the cops for defamation. All, McDonough says, because he tried to stop an officer from speeding five years ago.