Police Harassment of Black Employees and Patrons at Miami Store Results in Civil Rights SuitDecember 03, 2013

Police stopped Earl Sampson at least once a week for the past four years and arrested him dozens of times for trespassing while he was working at the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store located on 207th Street in Miami Gardens. Mr. Sampson and Quickstop owner Alex Saleh have now filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Miami Gardens for systematically profiling, stopping, frisking, searching, and arresting African Americans without cause.

In June 2012, Mr. Saleh installed video cameras in his store after watching Mr. Sampson, other employees, and his customers - most of them poor and black - being stopped, frisked, and arrested for trespassing by Miami Gardens police day after day.

Three videos show officers coming into the store and removing Earl Sampson while he is stocking coolers or taking out trash. He has been arrested 62 times for trespassing, sometimes while he is inside the store where he has worked since October 2011. One short clip shows Mr. Saleh protesting as Mr. Sampson is taken away in the middle of his shift.

Cameras caught a police officer confronting a frail-looking woman, shoving his hand in her purse, dumping its contents on the pavement, then kicking at the items before walking away. Another customer stopped to help her pick up her belongings.

Another video caught a uniformed police officer as he stopped 69-year-old Willie Battle, who is disabled and walks with a cane, for having an open beer can in front of the store. The officer ordered Mr. Battle to empty his pockets, but he was slow, and the officer then handcuffed him behind his back and put his hands in Mr. Battle's pants pockets, pulling out wads of paper and dropping them on the ground. The officer then ordered Mr. Battle to sit on the pavement, which he could do only by falling onto his injured backside. "I’m almost 70 years old, I can’t sit on the ground like that," Mr. Battle told the Miami Herald. "I told them to let me sit in the back of the police car, but they said I had to sit on the pavement." The open container citation was later dismissed.

More footage shows police waving open beer cans and cups, taken from customers, directly in front of the cameras. Mr. Saleh filed a complaint last year with Miami Gardens police, State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, and the FBI. Since he complained to the city, the police department's large RV has been parked regularly outside the store. Just last week, as the Miami Herald broke the story, Sgt. Martin Santiago walked up to a store camera, held up a cup of confiscated beer and poured it on the ground. “It appears," said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert after viewing several videos, “the officers were being arrogant with their authority and that is unacceptable."

The state attorney’s office declined to investigate and Miami Gardens closed the case in June. City Manager Cameron Benson, who was appointed in October, has now launched a new investigation, and Gilbert, a former prosecutor and civil rights attorney, said any officers who violated laws will be disciplined. The mayor declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but said the videos are disturbing and disheartening, especially in a city whose leaders are nearly all African American. “I know people are saying this is racial profiling,” he said, “but you can’t have racial profiling in a city that’s almost all black.’’