One day after the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches and its Miami-Dade County Branch asked Attorney General Eric Holder to direct the Justice Department to review the practice of intimidation by officers of the Miami Gardens Police Department against African American residents, Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd resigned amid allegations that officers in his department have systematically committed civil rights violations against residents of city.
“The Miami Gardens community deserves a police department that is committed to stopping crime and preserving justice,” stated Adora Obi Nweze, President of the NAACP Florida State Conference. “This is a good first step toward that goal, but hardly the last step. The systematic allegations of police intimidation did not happen because of just one person; they were the result of a sustained lack of oversight. We hope that the Miami Gardens Police Department will continue to work with the community on a fairer and more just system.”
Many Miami Gardens residents have faced and continue to face harassment and misconduct carried out by the Miami Gardens Police Department, related to a program called the Zero Tolerance Zone Initiative. Public records contain 27 video recordings from one store owner, Alex Saleh, who also filed a complaint with the internal affairs commander, Gary Smith. These recordings show police regularly questioning, frisking, and arresting people who not only have permission to be on the property, but also have not committed any crimes.
On Tuesday, the NAACP sent the following letter to the Department of Justice:
December 9, 2013
Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
Grande H. Lum
Director, Community Relations Service
Acting Assistant Attorney General, Director of the Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
Wifredo A. Ferrer
U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Florida
99 NE 4th Street
Miami, FL 33132
Dear General Holder, Ms. Monroe, Ms. Samuels and Mr. Ferrer:
RE: Request for a Civil Rights Investigation of the Conduct of the Miami Gardens Police Department
On behalf of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches and its Miami-Dade Branch, I am respectfully requesting the Department act promptly to review the overwhelming and systemic pattern and practice of intimidation by officers of the Miami Gardens Police Department against African American residents of Miami Gardens, and ensure that an impartial and thorough investigation is performed promptly. We also respectfully request a meeting with Department of Justice officials to whom we can present our concerns.
The people of Miami Gardens are currently facing a severe crisis in the form of harassment and misconduct carried out by the Miami Gardens Police Department. The police have made hundreds of apprehensions of employees and customers of convenience stores for “trespassing.” This supposed “zero tolerance” initiative by the police has left the Miami Gardens community shaken and uncertain of whether the police are willing to protect them from actual criminals.
Alex Saleh, the owner of the 207 Quickstop market in Miami Gardens, filed an internal affairs complaint in August 2012 as a result of the excessive number of his employees and customers who were being harassed and arrested by the Miami Gardens Police Department at his store at 3185 NW 207th Street – often times for offenses they had not even committed. Over the past four years, one of Mr. Saleh’s employees, Earl Sampson, 28, has been arrested more than 100 times, including 62 arrests for loitering and trespassing even including occasions when he was stocking store shelves. Even after filing the report, one of the officers who Mr. Sampson had complained about, Michael Malone, continued to harass a customer who was part of the complaint. This type of police misconduct has resulted in employees like Mr. Sampson having a 38 page criminal file filled with a substantial number of charges that were never pursued by prosecutors, which itself is a strong indicator of police misconduct in Miami Gardens.
Mayor Oliver Gilbert contends that the allegations of police misconduct made by Mr. Saleh are untrue and that Mr. Saleh refused to provide information for the City to investigate. However, public records support Mr. Saleh’s contention that he did provide videos to the internal affairs commander, Gary Smith, in compliance with the state attorney’s subpoena for the videos last year.
Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr., et al.
December 9, 2013
Having lost faith in the police department’s ability to conduct an impartial investigation, Mr. Saleh gathered more than 27 recordings from the $7,000 worth of video surveillance installed inside and outside of his store. These videos show police regularly questioning, frisking, and arresting people who not only have permission to be on the property, but also have not committed any crimes. This video archive documents what may be the most pervasive, most invasive, and most unjustified pattern of police harassment in the nation.
Miami Gardens is not a small jurisdiction: it is the third-largest city in Miami-Dade County, with a population of over 106,000. As it happens, 76% of the population and most of its senior public officials are African Americans, but that does not excuse the Police Department’s administration of a pattern of grave misconduct. Police harassment is unlawful and morally wrong irrespective of the race of those who are ultimately responsible and accountable. Public officials of other jurisdictions surely are watching Miami Gardens, knowing that if police harassment of African Americans is acceptable in Miami Gardens, it is acceptable anywhere.
Absent federal oversight and intervention, the NAACP has no confidence that the Miami Gardens Police Department or other city officials will willingly conduct a complete and impartial investigation. We therefore call upon you to deploy personnel to Miami Gardens immediately to uncover all of the facts, determine whether federal laws have been violated, prosecute those responsible, and ensure that new procedures are implemented to prevent recurrences and effectively reduce crime without abusive tactics.
Adora Obi Nweze
President, Florida State Conference of Branches, NAACP, and
President, Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP
cc: Thomas Battles, Regional Director, Community Relations Service, Atlanta, GA