BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower on Tuesday told a packed meeting of the city's gay Business Enhancement Committee she received "a groundswell'' of pressure to pull two officers off street patrol after a gay tourist said they falsely arrested him.
"Even before the city had a chance to react, before the groundswell – and the threats and the actions – we first talk," Bower scolded the committee. "Give us a few days before you say what you're going to do. We would have made the same decision without the added pressure."
On Feb. 3, the ACLU of Florida notified Bower that it planned to sue Miami Beach and Officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi on behalf of tourist Harold Strickland, pictured, who says the two cops yelled antigay slurs and falsely accused him of a crime after he saw them beating a handcuffed man near Flamingo Park last March.
About 36 hours after news broke about the lawsuit, Police Chief Carlos Noriega put Forte and Hazzi on desk duty. The city won't comment further about the case pending an Internal Affairs investigation of Forte and Hazzi, who have not responded to several interview requests.
Forte and Hazzi arrested Strickland about 1:30 a.m. March 13, claiming they saw him try to break into cars – 30 minutes after Strickland called 911 to report that saw a handcuffed man being beaten near Flamingo Park, according to a recorded conversation.
The state attorney's office dropped the loitering or prowling charge after hearing the 911 recording and reading depositions given by Forte and Hazzi, said Robert F. Rosenwald Jr., director of the ACLU Florida's Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Advocacy Project.
The depositions were done separately by Strickland's attorney, Ray Taseff. Several times, Forte and Hazzi had different recollections about what happened, said Rosenwald, who sat in on the depositions.
"One of them said they stopped [Strickland] in the parking lot. The other said they stopped him in the street," Rosenwald said Tuesday.
Forte said Strickland tried to break into cars about a half-hour before the arrest; Hazzi said it was about a minute before, Rosenwald said.
"They were making it up," he said.
Rosenwald said he has received other complaints from gay tourists and residents about poor treatment by some Beach cops.
"The lawsuit was necessary to get the police to the table. Now it's a matter of getting them to do something."
Police Chief Carlos Noriega told the committee of several steps already taken to improve relations:
- Detective Juan Sanchez, the department's spokesman who is gay, is now liaison to the committee.
- Capt. Jennifer Elmor, a lesbian, will become head of Internal Affairs. She succeeds Capt. James Hyde, who is retiring.
Also, the department will establish an across-the-board method of noting hate crimes on police reports.
Photos by STEVE ROTHAUS / Miami Herald Staff