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Prosecutors say they believe gay tourist's claims, but two Miami Beach cops won't be charged

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office won’t bring criminal charges against two Miami Beach police officers accused of yelling antigay epithets at a tourist, kicking the man and falsely accusing him of trying to break into cars near Flamingo Park.

Prosecutors say they believe the account given to them by victim Harold Strickland, but did not charge Officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi because “no crime can be proven,” according to a closeout memo by the office’s public corruption unit.

The officers declined to speak with state attorney’s investigators.

“Based on this investigation, although no crime can be proven, serious questions have been raised about the actions of the subject officers during the incident in question that need to be addressed in an administrative forum. Accordingly, this investigation is now closed and referred back to the Miami Beach Police Department for appropriate administrative action,” Assistant State Attorney Luis Caso wrote in the memo.

Both Forte and Hazzi, hired as new officers in February 2007, are on administrative desk duty until after an internal affairs investigation is completed, said Miami Beach Police Detective Juan Sanchez , the department’s spokesman.

Strickland, a former Beach resident who now lives in Los Angeles, said that about 1 a.m. March 13, 2009, he was visiting South Florida and wanted to see his old neighborhood. He walked past Flamingo Park near 14th Street and Michigan Avenue and said he saw two guys beating a man and kicking him in the head like “a football.”

Strickland called 911, realizing as he described the beating that the two assailants — with guns, walkie-talkies and handcuffs — were undercover police.

For nearly five minutes, Strickland spoke with a 911 dispatcher until he said the two men were "coming after me!"

The men, later identified as Forte and Hazzi, approached Strickland and can be heard on the recording asking him why he is there, where he lives and if he has identification. Then the line went dead.

“They suggested that they would do to him what they did to someone else and make the ‘faggots’ disappear, and that ‘no one is going to miss you because you’re from West Hollywood, [Calif.],’ according to the closeout memo.

“After this, the two officers called a van to return for another prisoner. While waiting, they had Mr. Strickland sitting on the street with his hands tied behind his back. When the van arrived, they told him to get up but he was unable to do so because of the way he was seated. At that point, one of the two police officers kicked Mr. Strickland in the torso, causing him to fall back,” reads the memo. “Mr. Strickland stated that, during the time that the two police officers were in contact with Mr. Strickland, they called him or referred to him as a ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’ several times.”

Forte and Hazzi took Strickland to jail, saying they saw him try to break into cars near Flamingo Park. Loitering or prowling charges against him were later dropped.

Civil-rights and criminal attorney Ray Taseff of Coral Gables, who represents Strickland as a volunteer, says he and his client are “profoundly disappointed they’re not prosecuting.”

“The state attorney’s office, they don’t believe these cops and they are handing it off to the city of Miami Beach to do the right thing and discipline them. We think they should be fired. They shouldn’t be cops,” Taseff said.

Miami Beach city officials and police didn’t know about the Strickland case until February 2010, when The Miami Herald reported it. Gay civic leaders immediately called for the officers to be punished and within a day Forte and Hazzi were assigned to desk duty. Shortly after, the department suspended them with pay.

“They have a work day but they stay at their house. If they go to a doctor’s office, they have to take vacation,” Sanchez said.

The city pays each officer $56,833.66 a year.

After the state attorney’s office closed the criminal investigation, Forte and Hazzi were brought back to the police station and assigned to administrative duty. “It can be answering phones, records, wherever they need them that day,” Sanchez said. “Not in uniform and not in the street.”

In November, Taseff and the ACLU of Florida filed a complaint in federal court against Miami Beach and the two officers individually. Strickland is seeking more than $15,000 in damages.

“This case is important for a lot of reasons. It’s not just a gay bashing or a gay intolerance issue. ... This is a glaring example of police misconduct and abuse,” Taseff said. “These guys made up an incident to arrest a guy who called in police misconduct. They made up a story to punish and silence him.”

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miami beach cops have to be among the most predatorial in the country

That is called a "hate crime" and should be referred to the US Attorney as such (Matthew Shepard Act).

they should be fired.

MBch Internal Affairs NEVER does anything. That Dept is as corrupt s they come. And the Beach govt likes it that way.

This is an absolute joke and I am utterly disgusted that the MBPD get away once again. When will anyone ever step up and admit they did wrong in that precinct? They are constantly targetting people over race and sexual orientation. I am not surprised the officers got away scott clean. This is Miami. They will be relieved of their desk duties shortly and off to harass and committ other hate crimes I can't even wait.

All this happening in the USA while gays and lesbians can legally be married in Mexico and Buenos Aires...this is showing to the rest of the world we Americans still living in the middle of the XVIII century, what a convincing way to demonstrate how hateful and primitive our government always deal with human issues. Be proud, we are, for many many reasons, the laughing stock of any civilized country....Mexico... whom could think of something like that will be accepted there, whom.

The Miami Beach community, gay and straight, needs "Dangerous Officer" posters of these two so-called police officers. We are in danger, and need to have the names/photos of these type of Miami Beach appointed officers in our cars and with us at all times.
Hopefully, the local magazines will print this info for us.

Who protects us from the police? The Miami Beach police are thugs and this is just one of many, many cases I've witnessed or heard about where the MB police abuse innocent people. It's not just about the Gay-bashing slurs, it's more than that. If these policemen are able to make up criminal charges and put innocent people in jail without any repercussions, then we are all at risk. Abuse of power should not be tolerated by a free society -the State Attorney's once again office punted the ball on this one, shame on them!

Corrected Post:

Who protects us from the police? The Miami Beach police are mostly thugs and this is just one of numerous cases I've witnessed and/or heard about where the MB police abuse innocent people. It's not just about the gay-bashing slurs, it's more than that. If these policemen are able to make up criminal charges and put innocent people in jail without any repercussions, then we are all at risk. Abuse of power should not be tolerated by a free society -the State Attorney's office once again punted the ball on this one, shame on them!

After the police actions during Urban Week and this police-state intimidating behavior, the gay community should just boycott Miami Beach. Businesses would be hurt? Well then tell the businesses and other tax payers to speak to the City Commission and take charge of this over-reacting and gay-bashing police force.

I am sure the MB gay community and council member will just wink-wink, as greed is more important than principles.

Strickland should have minded his own business instead of calling 911. So naive.

I happened across this story while reading about the police shooting at Urban Beach Week. I'm really surprised at what the police there seem to be getting away with, they really do sound like thugs. Hopefully the communities there can all get together and put a stop to all kinds of police intimidation and harassment. Here in The Twin Cities (Saint Paul/Minneapolis MN) we had just a few of the renegade type police officers. The different communities banded together and today those thugs are gone.

It is now official. A GAY BOYCOTT of all Miami Beach businesses, travel/tourism, has not been called by national LGBT and civil rights groups.
The police in Miami Beach are out of control specifically harrassing the LGBT community in area such as Flamingo Park and even the beaches using excuses such as car vandalism, loitering or beachfront condo complaints for their "crackdown" on gay activity.
Once pro-gay, but now lame duck Mayor Matti Bower can do something about this or suffer the consequences, but once again has chosen not to react. We have heard nothing from her or the commission, conveniently, on this issue.

It is now official. A GAY BOYCOTT of all Miami Beach businesses, travel/tourism, has NOW been called by national LGBT and civil rights groups.
The police in Miami Beach are out of control specifically harrassing the LGBT community in area such as Flamingo Park and even the beaches using excuses such as car vandalism, loitering or beachfront condo complaints for their "crackdown" on gay activity.
Once pro-gay, but now lame duck Mayor Matti Bower can do something about this or suffer the consequences, but once again has chosen not to react. We have heard nothing from her or the commission, conveniently, on this issue.

Goodbye, South Beach... Hello, Wilton Manors!

I am hardly a gay rights activist - not remotely my issue what I am is an outraged citizen. All the anger here seems to be directed at MB and it's well deserved but how about the State Attorney's office. When do they ever take on a powerful interest, group or politician? I am hoping that the gay community, one that is great at mobilizing for a just cause will finally provide the support to toss out Fernandez Rundle. If she charges the cops she could have the unions against her. If she prosecutes those illegal gambling machines she risks upsetting the Mayor of Miami and the future Mayor of Miami-Dade. She is worthless. do something people! get rid of the do nothing, go along get along State Atty.

How could the State Attorney's office NOT FIND A CRIME here? Can you simply beat the crap out of someone then silence and intimidate a witness? There is no crime here? This is ridiculous.

I was in South Beach in March and never felt so uncomfortable in my life. It was
actually dangerous there. So many gay people have left because of the gay bashings and police brutality. Now the police have to deal with gangs and more events like Urban week. Stay away from south beach and travel to ft lauderdale. I don't think this will ever turn around.

how about the State Attorney's office? When do they ever take on a powerful interest, group or politician? I am hoping that the gay community will provide the support to toss out Fernandez Rundle. She is worthless! get rid of the do nothing, go along get along State Atty Fernandez Rundle

Downtown Miami is the new place to be

There are lots of great police who risk their lives to protect us.

But there are always a few bad apples in the barrel.

This is a hate crime pure and simple. if the DA cant prove the case, the police should be reassigned to a really ugly neighborhood.

Sometimes you have to send a messsage.

Police like these create disrespect for the entire force,and that encourages criminals.

When does the Protest begin? I'm certainly ready to demonstrate in front of the CMB Police Department... asking for the swift removal of these 2 hateful characters from the force...Detective Juan Sanchez, the CMB Police Department spokesperson, should know better! They must be removed, and now!
Address your comments to him at: jsanchez@miamibeachfl.gov or juansanchez@miamibeachfl.gov
Remember: Taxpayers pay their salaries and, considering their heinous actions, they shouldn't receive another dime!

I'm not surprised at all. MB Police is notorious in committing crime. I once witnessed a cop banging a subject's head on the hood of his car while the subject was handcuffed. The State Attorney Office receives gifts and incentives from Miami Beach politicians; therefore, it will be unusual or impossible to prosecute these crooks.

I experienced a less serious incident but stayed quiet about it for fear of retaliation. It was an intimidating and embarrassing situation. I'm sorry this case was so conveniently dismissed. I do not have confidence the Dept. Is fair and honest with the gay community. Sad. But I'm not leaving.

I don't feel it is a gay issue the same as Urban bch week has nothing to do with the color of the skin Actions!

bible says no (ho mos ex uali ty).
case closed.

What a silly response, the case is not closed because of the bible. Please get a clue about justice, and morality. This is not even a gay issue per se (there are far more complexities if it's made to be one...like dealing with all the cruising and sexual activity that goes on in public parks, the perverse prostitution of transsexuals around town, the inexcusably immature flamboyance of grown adult men who act like teenage girls all over South Beach, etc. etc.). It's really an issue of on-the-job professionalism/misuse of authority and good samaritan decency. The cops acted in a grossly wrong manner. Everyone seems to know that to be fact, and yet somehow there still isn't proper action taken against them to send the clear message that such inappropriate behavior and poor decision-making will not tolerated in the police workplace. Ridiculous. Those people that live in this area should be outraged and not let this issue rest until it's handled properly. Did the cops in error even manage an apology, if they are actually sorry for having been so mistaken in their choices that night? The punishment should certainly be stronger than that level, but at least that would show some moral fiber from the agency that is supposed to be protecting the people. They are BUDGETED, HIRED and PAID by the people. To think they have the gall to misuse that honor is absurd. Obviously there needs to be some big reminder message sent to the force so the guilty or potentially guilty culprits here it loud and clear.

There must be some very good cops out there, for certain. Kudos to them. What a thankless position most of the time. Hopefully they are properly recognized. But the bad seeds need to be weeded out (actually they should never be let it...where are the human resource standards?!). But I've seen the horrendous way that some beachfront cops conduct themselves, like a bunch of overweight and over-caffeined thugs riding on those ATVs like a toy and barking at (or flashing brights in the face of) innocent young people or tourists who are simply trying to enjoy a nice moment. I suppose karma comes around for all of them, but in the meantime it's despicable the way they handle themselves.

The whole place, South Beach, has become somewhat of a joke. It's like Vegas, but without the businesslike and service-oriented nature of the gaming industry (not sure why but the service culture in Miami Beach is notoriously pathetic).

In the mid90s, South Beach was a pretty interesting place to be or visit. Now it's become much more of a dirty, overcrowded, drug and crime-riddled land of illegals and random misfits...where this country's primary language is virtually lost...and with cops that aren't helping matters the way they should be. Like many others whose business South Beach should want and probably needs, I will not be returning in the foreseeable future.

When the New World Symphony asked permission to install surveillance cameras in the park next door, Mayor Bower said she was against putting surveillance cameras in public places. Who is she afraid will get filmed committing a crime?

The mayor Bower should be as criminally responsible as these officers. This organization is extremelly corrupt to the point where they hire gays to cover up their crimes against gays. The Miami Beach Internal Affairs Sgt. Carolyn Chin has been investigating a number of police brutality cases against gays including this one, yet she never found anything criminal and continues to work there making over $70K a year. Resently appointed openly gay Captain of Miami Beach Internal Affairs Jennifer Elmore acts as a PR puppet for gay victims instead of answering hard questions about cover ups by her employees. At the city level openly gay Commissioner Michael Gongora doesn't even respond to questions about corrupt Internal Affairs procedures. And everyone else who is gay friendly on the payroll is corrupt and chooses to silence and and ignore any issues that can make them look like hypocrites.

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