- Read the Miami-Dade state attorney's office closeout memo
- 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
- Read the ACLU letter to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower
- Hear Harold Strickland’s emergency phone call to Miami Beach 911
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.”