- Harold Strickland’s emergency phone call to Miami Beach 911
- Read the ACLU letter to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower
BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
The ACLU of Florida says two Miami Beach police officers yelled epithets at a gay tourist and falsely accused him of trying to break into cars after he witnessed them kicking and punching a handcuffed man at Flamingo Park.
As Officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi approached witness Harold Strickland, they didn't know he was on his cellphone reporting the beating to a Miami Beach 911 dispatcher, said Robert F. Rosenwald Jr., director of the ACLU Florida's Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Advocacy Project.
“This is an issue that we have hoped to address for a long time. Miami Beach Police have for a long time harassed gay men around Flamingo Park without probable cause,'' Rosenwald said Wednesday.
Miami Beach police first learned of the alleged incident – which occurred last March – on Wednesday afternoon and immediately began an internal affairs investigation, spokesman Detective Juan Sanchez said.
“At this time, the department cannot comment nor is it a practice to comment on an intended issue that is going to be [the] subject of litigation by the city,'' Sanchez wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald.
Detective Gus Sanchez, vice president of the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police, also said he couldn't discuss an open investigation.
Forte and Hazzi both were hired by Beach police as new officers in February 2007. They were still on duty Wednesday, Juan Sanchez said.
The incident began about 1 a.m. March 13 as Strickland, a former Beach resident now living in Los Angeles, walked past Flamingo Park near 14th Street and Michigan Avenue.
Strickland called 911 when he saw a man being beaten by two men just outside the park.
“I saw a guy running and then I saw two, what looked like undercover cops running. And they pushed this guy down on the ground, the one cop did, and the other cop came up as if he was kicking a football … and kicked the guy in the head,'' Strickland, 45, told a dispatcher during a recorded phone call to 911.
For nearly five minutes, he talked to the dispatcher, who encouraged him to get closer for more detail “if it doesn't put you in any danger.''
A few seconds later, Strickland told the dispatcher: “Now they're coming after me!''
The two men, later identified as officers Forte and Hazzi, approached Strickland and could be heard saying, “What are you doing here? Where do you live? Let's see some ID.'' A few seconds later the line went dead.
Strickland later told the ACLU that Forte and Hazzi grabbed his cellphone and disconnected the call.
“The officers then told Strickland: ‘We know what you're doing here. We're sick of all the f---ing fags in the neighborhood.' The officers pushed Strickland to the ground and tied his hands behind his back,'' Rosenwald wrote in an ACLU letter delivered Wednesday to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.
“While Strickland was on the ground, the officers continued to spew anti-gay epithets. They called him a ‘f---ing fag' and told him he was going to ‘get it good in jail.'''
Bower and City Manager Jorge Gonzalez also declined to comment.
Strickland called 911 at 1:06 a.m., according to dispatch records.
Forte wrote in an arrest report that 30 minutes later – at 1:36 a.m. – he saw Strickland trying to break into six cars at 14th Street and Michigan Avenue near Flamingo Park.
Strickland said he tried to tell the officers about his call to 911, but that they wouldn't listen to him. They took him to jail on a loitering-or-prowling charge. At a hearing the next day, a judge told him that he would get out of jail faster if he pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor, Rosenwald said.
Strickland agreed, left jail and called the ACLU. He later changed his plea to not guilty. The State Attorney's Office later dropped the charge.
Loitering and resisting-arrest-without-violence charges also were dropped against Oscar Mendoza, the man Strickland reported being beaten near Flamingo Park.
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.