Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega met with gay leaders earlier this afternoon at city hall, promising changes one week after the ACLU announced a suit charging that Beach cops regularly harass gay men in Flamingo Park.
Noriega stressed that the two officers at the center of the ACLU suit have been placed on desk duty. Noriega says he doesn't believe their case is indicitive of a larger problem.
"With the exception of the case that re-emerged last week, I have not had an incident like this cross my desk in three years," he told the meeting of the LGBT business outreach committee. "I didn't see this coming or realize this was a problem [with the gay community]."
The ACLU suit, which you can read more about here, is on behalf of a former Beach resident named Harold Strickland, who was arrested after calling 911 to report that cops were beating up another gay man near Flamingo Park.
Some members of the committee were skeptical of Noriega's assertion that Strickland's case wasn't indicitave of a larger problem in the MBPD.
Chip Arndt, a committee member, read from a blog post by a traveler who said he was arrested and harassed after sitting on the beach with his boyfriend. Other committee members mentioned that their friends and neighbors had similar problems.
"I know you think this case was an isolated incident, but it's not," Arndt said.
Noriega did promise some changes in the department. He said that a captain who is a lesbian will soon be reassigned to internal affairs to handle complaints about cops accused of harassing gays.
Noriega also said diversity training would be beefed up and that the Beach's hate crimes hot line will be publicized again.
Det. Juan Sanchez, the Beach PD's spokesman, who is openly gay, also defended the work of officers patrolling around Flamingo Park.
"I've been doing this for 22 years and I've never once stopped someone at Flamingo Park who didn't have some other reason for being there, and a majority of them thought I was just harassing them," Sanchez said. "I've had people accuse me of 'being one of those cops who hate gay people.' I'm gay. I've had a partner for ten years."
The City of Miami has six months to respond to the ACLU's lawsuit. In the meantime, the two officers at the center of the case -- Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi -- have been assigned to desk duty.
"It's an open criminal and IA investigation, so as a result, I can't discuss specifics," Noreiga says of the case. "But during my preliminary review, I found some inconsistencies which we will be investigating going forward."
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