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Miami Beach pays gay man $75,000 to settle false-arrest case; also orders cops not to harass same-sex couples

BY STEVE ROTHAUS and DAVID SMILEY, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

The city of Miami Beach on Monday paid a $75,000 settlement to a gay tourist who said he was roughed up, insulted and falsely arrested by two police officers near Flamingo Park in 2009.

“The city paid it. We got the check,” said civil-rights attorney Ray Taseff of Coral Gables, who represented victim Harold Strickland in a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Florida.

“The most important thing to me since that night has been that someone had to be held responsible for what was happening in the city that used to be my home,” Strickland said in a statement.

Last week, the city of Miami Beach announced it was firing officers Frankly Forte and Eliut Hazzi, who had been under investigation by police Internal Affairs and prosecutors since The Miami Herald reported in February 2010 on the incident. Both officers had been hired in 2007.

Gene Gibbons, Hazzi and Forte’s union attorney, said the two officers are being “railroaded” by the city, which sent them to Flamingo Park to address neighbors’ complaints about public sex.

“The way it’s being construed is these two guys are some kind of hate mongrels," he said. "That’s not the case at all."

Strickland, a former Beach resident who moved to Los Angeles, said that about 1 a.m. on 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 his 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 officers. 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.

Strickland, who according to state attorney’s office documents said the two officers repeatedly called him “fag and faggot,” was arrested on charges of loitering and prowling. The officers said they saw Strickland trying to get into parked cars before their run-in with Oscar Mendoza, but the charges were dropped.

Mendoza, the man Strickland says the two officers were beating, was arrested that night. Prosecutors later dropped charges of resisting arrest without violence.

After a nearly yearlong investigation, prosecutors also declined to press charges against Hazzi and Forte, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove the officers’ guilt to a jury. Instead, they suggested Miami Beach police take “appropriate action.”

Gibbons said the officers did not use anti-gay epithets with Strickland or unnecessary force with Mendoza. He said the officers had handcuffed the man, who fell while trying to run away.

“Take a look at his booking photo. There’s not a mark on this guy’s face. Or his head or anywhere,” Gibbons said.

The settlement agreement clearly states that Miami Beach isn’t “admitting or denying liability” in the Strickland case, Taseff said.

City Attorney Jose Smith said “many of the allegations were in dispute.” But rather than engaging in costly litigation, the city agreed to settle.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Miami Beach also promised to train police not harass or arrest gay couples for “kissing/making out” in public.

“It’s sad that it took someone going through what happened to me for the city to start taking this problem seriously, but I’m hopeful that after today’s settlement it will never happen to anyone again,” Strickland said.

“This case is extraordinary because Harold Strickland had the courage and tenacity and sacrifice to get something out of this more than money,” Taseff said. “Public displays of affection are constitutionally protected activities. This settlement agreement puts in writing an enforceable judgment against the city to put gay people on the same legal footing as nongay in public displays of affection.”

Miami Beach was the first South Florida city to require police officers be given gay-sensitivity training. Mandatory classes began in 1991, including how to deal with fights between same-sex couples, how to treat gay-bashing victims and what to do if gay men were caught having sex in public places.

The Strickland case “shows that change is slow,” Taseff said.

According to the settlement agreement, police are reminded that “it is not a violation of law to solicit unpaid consensual sexual acts between adults regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression so long as the consensual sexual act does not occur in public.” Also, “officers will receive refresher training on current applicable Florida Statutes regarding exposure of sexual organs and sex acts in public.”

Said Taseff: “Not only are we getting compensation and justice for the individual, but what we’re getting will make Miami Beach, hopefully, a better and safer place for their citizens to live and work in.”

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Not a peep about the other man who was beaten, Oscar Mendoza? He wasn't gay and doesn't count?

Congratulations, Ray Taseff - well done!!

Gene Gibbons sounds like a typical "union thug" in this story. The correct word is "monger".

miami beach cops are thugs

that is good that these so called officers, are getting a taste of their own medicine....

you think thats fair for corrupt city attorney of miami beach,investigate all his businesses....

AWESOME JOB HAROLD!

And what exactly does $75K, less attorney fees, do for Mr. Strickland? Seems like everyone is just after getting paid. No mention of the poor man that was getting beat by the police...

Miami cops are among the most corrupt, nasty, racist and hated in America.

if you must hate- hate em pigs!

Deviate sodomites can now engage each other in Flamingo Park without fear of prosecution.

mbpigs love to go after gays,they don't fight back, don't carry weapons and with entrapment can arrest a dozen or so in a night and get brownie points for all those arrests. oink oink

has been going on for decades. instead of protecting the public from the dangerous criminals they are cowards and avoid them at all costs

What the article fails to mention is that the Police Officers were paid during this entire period for doing "police work" from home. Basically, they got paid for 2 years to do nothing.
So $75,000 is an insult to the tourist, and an insult to the citizens of Miami Beach. The police officer's received over 5 times more than the tourist for doing this.
Rick Kendle

4 Police Officer Positions Open in Miami Beach, 2 got fired about a month ago for getting drunk at a bar and then running over a tourist who is still in the hospital. Luckily the poor woman hasnt died! And, now these 2 idiots. Who's hiring this IDIOTS??? I'd review Human Resource personnel and other high ranking officials who screen this type of element from being employeed by our city. I would expect this from "The City of Miami." But, with what I pay in property taxes on Miami Beach I would expect and do Expect better. 75k is a drop in the bucket to what we will have to pay the victim in the hospital. Keep up the good work Miami Beach Officials how many more lawsuits will we have to settle until you realize you have a group of "Drunk Racist" with a badget and power on your police force.

Nash and Dozier...still working midnights?

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