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ACLU sues Miami Beach on behalf of gay man wrongly arrested by police near Flamingo Park

Earlier this year, the ACLU of Florida said it would sue the city of Miami Beach and Beach police officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi after a gay man said he was wrongfully arrested in March 2009 near Flamingo Park. (Click the above link for the full story about Harold Strickland's arrest.)

Here's an ACLU news release about the suit filed Monday in federal court. The full complaint is below.

Harold SticklandMIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The ACLU of Florida today filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Miami Beach and two of its police officers on behalf of Harold Strickland, a gay former Miami Beach resident who was wrongfully arrested in March 2009 in retaliation for calling 911 to report that two Miami Beach police officers were beating and kicking a man who lay handcuffed on the ground near Flamingo Park.

While the lawsuit focuses specifically on Strickland’s arrest and violations of his civil rights by two Miami Beach Police Officers, the lawsuit highlights two systemic issues that reach far beyond this case: the practices of unlawfully targeting gay men for arrest without probable cause and harassing and arresting people who observe, document, and/or report police misconduct.

“For years the ACLU has received reports that Miami Beach police have targeted gay men near Flamingo Park for nothing more than being gay,” said Shelbi Day, an attorney with the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project. “When the police become the problem rather than part of the solution, the entire community suffers. It is time for the City to end the discriminatory policies and practices of its police force.”

The complaint alleges that the City and arresting officers, Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi, violated Strickland’s rights under federal and state law. Specifically, the complaint seeks damages for violation of Strickland’s First and Fourth Amendment rights and false arrest. The evidence, including the officers’ sworn deposition testimony, the tape recording of Strickland’s 911 call, Strickland’s cell phone record, and the officers’ own arrest affidavits, indicates that the officers lied in their report of the incident in order to cover-up their misconduct. Strickland was charged with “loitering and prowling.”

"The issue here goes far beyond the violation of Mr. Strickland’s rights as a gay man. In addition to targeting gay men, the Miami Beach police have an alarming history of arresting individuals who attempt to document police misconduct.” said Ray Taseff, ACLU cooperating attorney.  “All individuals have a constitutional right and a civic duty to report police misconduct. When the police arrest people for reporting police misconduct, as they did in this case, they damage the public’s faith in law enforcement."

More than six months ago the ACLU gave notice of its intent to sue (as required by state law), and provided the City with detailed information evidencing gross misconduct by the police department and the officers in this case.  At that time, the ACLU demanded that the Miami Beach Police Department institute immediate remedial action to halt the harassment, intimidation, and arrest of gay men near Flamingo Park and individuals who observe, document or report police misconduct. The ACLU also called on the City to discipline officers Hazzi and Forte for their misconduct. To date, the investigation remains open and no corrective action has been taken.

“While the Strickland incident has already sparked some reforms by Police Chief Noriega, including improved communication between the gay community and the police department by the appointment of Sgt. Juan Sanchez as a liaison to the gay community, retaliation for reporting police misconduct prevents civilian oversight of the police and cannot be tolerated” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. 

“Although it was widely reported that, upon receipt of our letter in February, the two officers were placed on desk duty and an internal investigation was launched,” explained Day, “it is our understanding that the investigation remains open, the officers have not been punished.” Day continued, “With this lawsuit we hope to vindicate Mr. Strickland’s rights and send the message to the City and the police that it will be held responsible for misconduct and discrimination.”

Strickland Complaint

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