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Miami Beach officials meet with gay business leaders; steps taken to improve police relations (with gallery)

Miami Beach gay business committee 008

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."

Harold SticklandOn 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

  • Gay tourist tells his story to Steve Rothaus’ Gay South Florida
  • Gay tourist: Miami Beach cops made up charges, arrested him after he reported to 911 that they beat a man
  • Desk duty for 2 accused Miami Beach cops
  • Hear Harold Strickland’s emergency phone call to Miami Beach 911
  • Read the ACLU letter to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower

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    I feel Beach Cops do a fine job dealing with large diverse crowds and are not homophobic. The Improper activity that goes on in Flamingo park is well known to all the residence in the area even the Mayor! What is wrong is wrong no matter your sexual preference.

    It's not just gays, the MBPD treats EVERYONE badly. They need a serious course on professional and respect. My firsthand experience:
    --Excessive force. Handcuffed man beaten and kicked after a car chase that ended outside my condo. Yes, a criminal, but beating the guy???
    --Over-response. Two separate, nearby domestic disputes resulted in 10+ patrol cars, an ambulance on standby and disruptive street closures. The couples are loud, not violent. The cops were rude and obnoxious to all. What a waste of taxpayer money.
    --Rude and discourteous. Have been in two traffic stops in five years (neither were mine) and the officer in each was rude, sarcastic and willfully antagonistic. We just tolerated the disrespect (we are middle class Miami Herald readers!), but others may not have so much self control. A raeson for all the incidents?
    --Needless arrests. I have seen arrests for open container laws, expired handicap parking stickers, a kid making a joke at a MBPD officer during Halloween. Thats a lot of taxpayer money for quality of life crimes.
    --Abuse of handicap stickers. Civilians are arrested, but MBPD gets a pass.

    This departmnt is the worst I have encountered. I used to live in NYC and for 20 years nothing but professional and respectful cops. Here? They are just scary. I tell my friends from the mainland and potentials tourists to avoid MB or if they must come, avoid the PD. The mayor is way, way behind on this problem.

    As a gay man and resident of Miami Beach I am deeply disturbed that this official misconduct could occur in my city. I have great respect and appreciation of our MB cops however the few mis-fit neanderthal rogue officers taint the entire department.

    One would think he should've been happy to go to jail...with all the free lovin and all.

    Hey, Bob the issue is police use of excessive force and criminal acts, such as false charges while trying to cover up abuse of a hand cuffed suspect. I have seen the MBP use excessive force on the beach. I know they have tough job. Doing your job and abuse of the job are unacceptable. These two cops, if found issuing false charge and abuse need to be removed from the police force for safety of the people they serve and their fellow officer’s reputation.

    Can you please understand the marriage wars are far from over. But the new information proves that the mocked smooth hill is indeed a very smooth dating sites reality. Since the homosexual community has enlisted the gay church as it lackeys to sanctify what God has called abominable.

    Thia incident was based out of thuggery and HOMOPHOBIC hate and the gay community will not stand for it. Not now...not ever!
    People consider us a weak community, but now they're seeing we're a STRONG, solid, galvanized community who you will not mess with and get away. Both thugs (in cop uniforms) should be fired from the get go. We have enough thugs out there, we don't need them pretending to be law enforcement. Best wishes ACLU!

    I also was attacked by Miami Beach Police while on vacation there. 3 officers went nuts on me just for walking from my car to the beach. The worst thing is that they went crazy when I told them I was gay... They started saying things like "we know what I am doing here", "there are no females here, what are you doing here?" ...I was like, is this a prank?! so I told them that I was gay. Then they started spinning me around, pointing tazers in my face, and humiliating me every way they could. The male officers told the female officer to put hands in my underpants and told me not to look at what she was doing or they will taze me. They were so hyper and sarcastic it was sick... It lasted forever!!! When I asked where does it say that I can not walk here, they pointed at a sign and said: "haha, can't you see it says no sex with animals on the sign, hahaha" Then they threw me in the car where i almost suffocated, while they were standing outside and laughing and calling me a victim. Then they repositioned the cars so it was blocking mine and told me " to get the F*** out of here" and never come back". They were standing there laughing while I tried to back out without scratching their cars. They changed me with an ordinance that doesn't exist at that location... After $500 of fees the charge was dropped but these sadists are still working for the Miami Beach Police Department, they make comments on here, have facebook accounts, and live and breed in our society like parasites... The internal affairs is a joke, and only making it worse by intimidating and threatening me.

    It's not a gay issue, this can happen to anyone. People have a right to walk on the street or a park if there are no signs that prohibit access. People should not be harassed by the police just because they look gay... I still had to pay lots of fees, so the City of Miami Beach can continue its war against lured gay tourists.

    ...and why the hell the city's website says: "Welcome to the city of 25/7" if their beach is closed to the public????

    If you are gay, stay away from Miami Beach. Their local leaders are very weak, and most gay activists and culture has left town during the last 5 years. The police and new city ordinances drove the gay out and brought homophobia and violence in. there is nothing left but homeless, thugs, and thugs in uniform.

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