The city of Miami has no "stop and frisk" program, but you'd be forgiven for assuming it does after hearing this amazing (in all the wrong ways) story.
Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years.
He’s been searched more than 100 times. And arrested and jailed 56 times.
Despite his long rap sheet, Sampson, 28, has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of marijuana.
Miami Gardens police have arrested Sampson 62 times for one offense: trespassing.
Almost every citation was issued at the same place: the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store on 207th Street in Miami Gardens.
FDLE records show that Sampson was stopped at least once a week for the past four years, and sometimes several times a week and even as many as three times in one day. The stops are often conducted by the same police officers, who have arrested him time and time again.
The problem here isn't just the endless harassment of one resident who doesn't seem to be a threat to anyone. The problem here is the fact that Sampson works for the 207 Quickstop. It's pretty hard to "trespass" on property when you have the explicit
permission to be there. It would be shady enough if the cops were just picking up Sampson every time he visited the store, but they've been patting him down, questioning him and sometimes arresting him for trespassing during his shifts.
One video, recorded on June 26, 2012, shows Sampson, clearly stocking coolers, being interrupted by MGPD Sgt. William Dunaske, who orders him to put his hands behind his back, and then handcuffs him, leads him out of the store and takes him to jail for trespassing.
Another video posted at the Miami Herald website shows Sampson being arrested for trespassing when he returns to the store after taking out the trash. (That arrest report says Sampson was "loitering" outside the store, but the video clearly shows he left, threw trash in the container, and went back in followed by the police officer who arrested him.)
Sampson's not the only one being harassed by the MGPD, although he is the main concern of the owner of the 207 Quickstop, Alex Saleh. Saleh fought back, though, installing 15 cameras to catch the endless harassment of Sampson and customers of his store.
The videos show, among other things, cops stopping citizens, questioning them, aggressively searching them and arresting them for trespassing when they have permission to be on the premises; officers conducting searches of Saleh’s business without search warrants or permission; using what appears to be excessive force on subjects who are clearly not resisting arrest and filing inaccurate police reports in connection with the arrests.
Saleh pins this invasion by Miami Gardens PD on his unfortunate decision to mark his store as part of the PD's "zero tolerance zone."
Almost immediately after Saleh put the “zero-tolerance” sign in his window, he regretted it.
Miami Gardens police officers, he said, began stopping his patrons regularly, citing them for minor infractions such as trespassing, or having an open container of alcohol. The officers, he said, would then pat them down or stick their hands in citizens’ pockets. But what bothered Saleh the most was the emboldened behavior of the officers who came into his store unannounced, searched his store without his permission and then hauled his employees away in the middle of their shifts.
The "zero tolerance zone" turns over a whole lot of power to the Miami Gardens PD. Here's part of the description from the MGPD's website
(which hasn't been updated in more than 5 years...).
This simple program asks local business owners to complete a simple affidavit, and post a sign on their properties, which allows MGPD officers to act on behalf of the business owners in their absence. The program also gives MGPD officers the authority to direct unauthorized personnel to leave private property or risk enforcement action from the officers…
This program is designed to reduce the number of individuals who are sometimes seen trespassing and loitering on private property without legitimate business.
This would explain all the "trespassing" charges. The affidavit gives the MGPD permission to patrol the store and surrounding area and make arrests/question citizens as officers see fit. This lowers the bar for police officers, removing anything resembling probable cause or reasonable suspicion.
But even as limitless as this is, the MGPD went even further
when "patrolling" the 207 Quickstop. You'll note that the agreement gives the PD permission to act on behalf of business owners "in their absence." Saleh was present for a great many of these "interactions." Not only that, but the officers' idea of acting on Saleh's "behalf" was to harass and arrest many of his customers, which is a strange way of construing this relationship. Stores need customers to purchase their goods, something that occurs less frequently when the patrons are being detained, questioned or arrested.
Saleh regretted this decision after seeing what "zero tolerance" (as applied by the MGPD) actually entailed. But Miami Gardens PD doesn't take "no" for answer.
He finally told them he no longer wanted to participate in the program and removed the sign.
The officers, however, continued their surveillance of his store over his objections. The officers even put the sign back on his store against his wishes, he said.
Things got worse when Saleh took copies of his video to MGPD Internal Affairs.
One evening, shortly after he had complained a second time, a squadron of six uniformed Miami Gardens police officers marched into the store, he says. They lined up, shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed in front of them, blocking two grocery aisles.
“Can I help you?” Saleh recalls asking. It was an entire police detail, known as the department’s Rapid Action Deployment (RAD) squad, whom he had come to know from their frequent arrest sweeps. One went to use the restroom, and five of them stood silently for a full 10 minutes. Then they all marched out.
Saleh also details a recent incident where an MGPD officer pulled him over for having a tag light out. By the time it was all done, six officers had arrived on the scene and one searched Saleh's vehicle without his permission. Saleh's recordings show him leaving the store that night in his vehicle. His tag lights were working.
As is usually the case in incidents like these, the police department has not offered a comment on this story. Police Chief Matthew Boyd did apparently issue a boilerplate statement about the PD's "commitment" to "serving and protecting citizens and businesses," but didn't address any specific complaints.
Violent crime, particularly murder, has spiked in Miami Gardens in recent months, but this application of "zero tolerance" policies will do very little to bring those numbers down. What it will do, however, is fill activity logs and ledgers that will show the PD is very busy
keeping Miami Gardens free of "trespassers" and handing out open container citations. Even if this story hadn't broken, a few years of skyrocketing arrests and tickets without a corresponding drop in violent crime would have exposed the MGPD's superficial, shoddy and ultimately unconstitutional efforts.
Saleh's filing a lawsuit against the city for this non-stop harassment, including warrantless searches of his premises. Not unsurprisingly, the announcement of his litigation has led to a sharp drop in police presence at the 207 Quickstop. Sampson himself hasn't been arrested since this announcement, either. If the MGPD sincerely believed they were helping curb violent crime by questioning/arresting Sampson and other Quickstop employees and customers, discussion of a lawsuit wouldn't have deterred those efforts. This withdrawal indicates the cops patrolling Saleh's store were, to put it most generously, padding arrest numbers. The reality is that they've been called out for their harassment of Miami Gardens' residents and are now making themselves scarce in order to prevent adding to the evidence against them.