To Protect and to Scare

Teresa Hoover has a quick temper, a harsh mouth, no husband, and four kids. She lives on a rough street in a bad section of Miami Beach. She's used and abused drugs, though she says that's behind her. And at age 29, she looks much older than her years would suggest. Teresa Hoover hasn't come to expect much from life, but what happened on November 19 surprised even her. Hoover's neighbors say she became the latest victim of an overly aggressive police force that sees the neighborhood south of Fifth Street as a war zone and everyone in South Pointe as the enemy.

There is no denying Hoover was hysterical that Tuesday night. She and Dawn Giroux had crossed paths several times earlier that day, and Hoover says she warned Giroux to stay away from her apartment building at 227 First St. Why Hoover and Giroux didn't get along isn't clear. (Hoover says she didn't want Giroux near the apartment because Giroux was involved with drugs. Giroux says she doesn't use drugs any more. She says Hoover was mad because she thought Giroux was looking for her sister's boyfriend.) When Giroux came by around midnight, Hoover flew down the front steps after her and the two began fighting. "I'm not saying I was right," Hoover says of the way she treated Giroux. But what happened next, she asserts, was definitely wrong.

As Hoover's friend Pete Davis tried to separate the two women, he noticed a white man, well over six-feet tall, turning the corner about half a block away, moving deliberately toward them. The man was pulling a black mask over his face, what Davis describes as a Ninja warrior mask. Sort of a ski mask for bad-asses. If it was meant to scare and intimidate, it worked. All Davis could see was the man's eyes. And his gun. When he reached Davis and the two women, the first thing the masked man did was shove the gun barrel into Davis's chest and tell him to move away.

Davis says he immediately suspected the masked man was a cop, and being a black man, he says he knows better than to argue with white cops. So he backed off. The masked man, whom witnesses say never identified himself, ordered the two women to sit on the ground. In less than a minute, an unmarked police car arrived. When the plainclothes officer got out and approached, Teresa Hoover again began yelling at Giroux. According to several witnesses, the cop pointed at Hoover and began screaming, "Shut the fuck up! Shut the fuck up!"

But Hoover kept yelling. And the plainclothes man got madder. "When she wouldn't be quiet, he hit her head on the car," says Inge Casiano, who lives across the street from Hoover. Casiano and at least three other witnesses say the cop held Hoover's hands behind her back, grabbed her by the hair, and slammed her head into the hood of a parked car. "The cop lost it," says Inge's husband Frank Casiano. "She was a hysterical woman, that's all. There was no reason to use force."

As the officer held Teresa Hoover against the car, Pamela Hoover says she went over to calm things down. "I said, `Why are you doing that to my sister?'" Pamela Hoover recalls, "and that's when he hit me." According to Pamela Hoover, Davis, and the Casianos, the plainclothes man hit Pamela across the side of the head with his hand-held radio. "It stunned me and knocked me back," she says. "He didn't have to hit me. I didn't touch him at all."

"A man like that is a danger," Inge Casiano says. "If he doesn't know how to deal with women who are hysterical, then he needs some training."

By the time the incident was over, nearly a dozen of Miami Beach's finest had descended on First Street. Teresa Hoover and Dawn Giroux were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. Hoover was also charged with resisting arrest without violence and detained on a five-year-old bench warrant for disorderly conduct. After she had been handcuffed and placed in a police car, Hoover asked if one of the policemen could retrieve her eyeglasses, which she had dropped in the street during the melee. Hoover's friend, Pete Davis, claims one of the officers walked over to the glasses and deliberately stepped on them. Another neighbor, Vicki Brown, says she isn't sure whether the cop broke them deliberately or stepped on them by accident in the dark. Either way, the glasses were crushed and Hoover had to have them replaced. Both Hoover and Giroux were booked into jail early Wednesday morning and later released.

Teresa Hoover, Pamela Hoover, and the other witnesses say they don't know the names of the cops who came calling that night. The masked officer kept his headgear on the entire time, at least half an hour. Police reports indicate that the first cop to reach the two women was Officer Newell Wilder. The reports do not indicate whether Wilder was in plain clothes, uniform, or wearing a Ninja-style mask. The arresting officer was identified as Dale Twist. Again the report is not clear as to whether he was in plain clothes or uniform. A receptionist at the police station says both men are assigned to the department's narcotics unit.

In his reports, Twist acknowledges he had trouble controlling the scene. After he arrived, Twist noted, he asked why the two women were fighting. Instead of answering, Twist reported, Hoover began screaming at Giroux. Hoover "was asked to calm down and again refused," he wrote, and she "was then placed under arrest at which time she began attempting to kick this [officer] and had to be physically restrained before cuffing." Hoover's neighbors say they never saw Hoover try to kick the officer. Giroux also contradicts Twist, asserting that he never asked the two women why they were fighting.

While police are making a concerted effort to clean up South Pointe's crack- and prostitution-weary streets, residents complain that they've also begun treating everyone like a suspect. Abusive language, hostile attitudes, and disrespect, they say, are now the norm. While some officers were deciding what to do with Hoover and Giroux, others began searching people who were just passing by, according to the neighbors. This is part of a growing practice, they allege, of random questioning and searches without cause. "They treat you like you're garbage," says Frank Casiano.

"They're becoming the people we have to be afraid of," adds Judith Diaz, another South Pointe resident. "If they are going to come into our neighborhood to help us, then help us, don't attack us." Inge Casiano agrees. "I'd rather not have them here if this is how they are going to act," she says. "They think everyone who lives here are drug dealers. Just because we're poor, we're not all drug dealers."

Police spokesman Tom Hoolahan refuses to answer any questions regarding the incident. Attempts to interview Newell and Twist through Hoolahan's office were unsuccessful. Hoolahan says that because none of the people involved filed a formal complaint with the department, he doesn't feel it is appropriate to comment about their allegations. And despite the fact that Police Chief Phillip Huber has encouraged citizens to report instances of alleged abuse by police officers, Teresa Hoover says it never really occurred to her to file an internal-affairs complaint. "I just figured police are police," she says. "They could do whatever they want and there is nothing you could do about it.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede