NAACP asks Justice to probe Fla. police department

Published On: Dec 10 2013 02:22:24 PM EST
MIAMI -

The NAACP is asking the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into allegations of harassment and misconduct by officers of the Miami Gardens Police Department, with many incidents captured on a convenience store's video cameras.

NAACP officials said Tuesday the allegations include an employee at the 207 Quickstop, Earl Sampson, who was arrested 62 times for trespassing even though he was often still on the job. Numerous patrons of the store - a short distance from Sun Life Stadium where the Miami Dolphins play - have been harassed, intimidated and arrested on equally questionable grounds, according to the NAACP.

Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference, said a Miami Gardens "zero tolerance" policy aimed at fighting crime appears to have gone way too far.

"The problem is that in order to address the criminal element, you've got to be sure that the rights of those who are not a part of the criminal element are not being violated at the same time," Nweze told reporters.

The NAACP letter, dated Tuesday, asks Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether there is a "pattern and practice" of intimidation by the Miami Gardens police force, which currently numbers about 200 sworn officers in a city of more than 110,000 people. A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Miami Gardens city and police officials also did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. Miami Gardens is a predominantly African-American city along Miami-Dade County's northern border with Broward County.

The owner of 207 Quickstop, Alex Saleh, and others have also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, its officials and several individual police officers. According to the lawsuit, Saleh signed up a few years ago for the city's "zero tolerance" program that gives officers broad powers to act on store property - such as arresting trespassers, cracking down on alcohol drinking and doing stop-and-frisks and so forth.

After the harassment problems began, Saleh asked to stop participating, but the officers continued their actions. Eventually Saleh installed about $7,000 worth of video equipment to document police actions, producing 27 videotapes that are at the heart of the NAACP complaint and the lawsuit.

"We've seen this kind of pattern throughout the state from time to time over many, many years," said David Honig, special counsel to the Florida NAACP. "Candidly, not documented by videotape and to this extent, ever. This is just unique."

The NAACP letter asks that federal investigators determine if any crimes have been committed and prosecute those responsible, as well as make sure the proper policies and procedures are being followed by the Miami Gardens police.