The two fired Miami Beach police officers who allegedly beat and wrongly arrested two gay men in 2009 say they are the victims of politics and deserve their jobs back.
Frankly Forte and Eliut Hazzi filed grievances last week with the city, demanding that they be reinstated with back pay. “The investigation was unfair and tainted with bias from the outset,” both men wrote in city documents filed Aug. 17-18.
Controversy has surrounded the former officers since early 2010, when former South Beach resident Harold Strickland went public with accusations that Forte and Hazzi were beating another gay man in Flamingo Park in March 2009 and then arrested Strickland when he called 911 to report the incident.
The officers charged both Oscar Daniel Mendoza and Strickland with loitering and prowling, saying the men were suspiciously walking around the park and trying to get into parked cars at around 1 a.m. Mendoza was also charged with resisting arrest. Prosecutors dropped all charges.
Strickland, who now lives in California and at the time was in town on business, said he had just left a gay club and was near 15th Street and Michigan Avenue en route to see his old home when he saw Forte and Hazzi beating Mendoza.
Strickland called 911 and said the officers were kicking Mendoza in the head like “a football” before the officers stopped him and the line went dead.
Strickland filed a lawsuit, which the city settled for $75,000 while firing the two officers Aug. 1. The former officers could not be reached for comment Friday.
Sgt. Alejandro Bello, president of the city’s police union, said Strickland’s story of what happened that night is full of holes.
He said Mendoza’s mug shot shows that he had no injuries to his face. He also questioned Strickland’s story that he wanted to see his old home and Mendoza’s statements that he was searching for his dog’s missing collar after a quick walk.
Bello also said Miami Beach politicians influenced the officers’ firings and noted that both Strickland and Mendoza have been arrested near Flamingo Park in the past and accused of involvement in illegal sex acts.
Mendoza was arrested in 2007 for lewd and lascivious behavior and accused of having oral sex with a man in a stranger’s backyard in the 900 block of 15th Street. The charges were dropped.
Strickland was accused of loitering and prowling in 1998 after he allegedly watched several men masturbate in a West Avenue alleyway. His attorney, Ray Taseff, said the 1998 arrest was a case of “wrong place, wrong time” and said a city magistrate acquitted Strickland in the case, which does not show up in court or criminal records.
Bello said neither man is credible.
“They have a prior history of being in the park for lewd activity and prior arrests for the same. On top of that, Harold Strickland pled out the case.”
Strickland, whose initial plea of no contest was reversed after the American Civil Liberties Union took up his case, declined to comment.
Taseff said Strickland stands by his story, and says Mendoza may have been kicked somewhere other than his head during the chaotic moments. City documents state that Mendoza gave Internal Affairs investigators pictures of his injuries.
Taseff predicted Forte and Hazzi’s grievances “will go nowhere.”
Hazzi and Forte were the third and fourth Miami Beach officers fired this summer.
The other two former officers, Derick Kuilan and Rolando Gutierrez, lost their jobs last month after an investigation found they were drinking and partying with women at a South Beach hotel before Kuilan went on an ATV joyride with a bachelorette and crashed into two people, seriously injuring them.
Kuilan — who faces criminal charges — and Gutierrez have also filed grievances and demanded they be reinstated. Kuilan says he was illegally blood-tested; Gutierrez has said he was wrongly forced to take a breath-alcohol test.