“I was just put in handcuffs!” Henry Williams — better known for his drag persona Tiffany Fantasia — screamed to his followers on a Facebook live video Monday evening, as he recounted the story of how he had just been stopped by Miami Beach police and placed in handcuffs because he matched the description of a black male of interest in possession of a knife.
The incident happened at the intersection of Española Way and Euclid Avenue in front of Williams’ apartment building on Martin Luther King Day.
Williams said he parked his car around the corner of his apartment building, in between drag gigs. He had just left Palace Bar on Ocean Drive and was on his way to Hotel Gaythering on Lincoln Road, where he hosts Karaoke Mondays, when he went home to change out of his “boy clothes,” his face still “painted.”
Williams stepped out of the car with a McDonald’s bag in one hand and a cell phone and keys in the other. Then, police came out of nowhere, asking Williams for his picture ID, eventually placing him in handcuffs.
“No positive description, no height, no weight. Just a black man with a grey shirt and blue jeans. Fucking ridiculous,” an emotionally-charged Williams said on Facebook live. “Then they wonder why we [African American males] feel the way we do towards the police department... because we all go through this shit! My dad went through this shit, I’m going through this shit. Many African American males go through this shit and get treated like shit in the process.”
Williams went on to say that “it’s so fucking aggravating, so annoying when all you’re trying to do is be a good person. And the sad part is that this isn’t the first time this ever happens to me. It’s always a vague ass description from the police department...no where near what you look like but you’re a suspect! Because of the color of your fucking skin. Don’t make any fucking sense.”
Williams said he was eventually let go when officers realized they had the wrong man. The real culprit, according to an incident report, was a black male fitting William’s description who had threatened a white female at a store on 14th Street and Washington Avenue, then followed her to 14th Street and Pennsylvania Court and attacked her, punching her in the chest. The victim then flagged down a police officer at the corner of 14th Place and Euclid Avenue and reported the attack.
Officers detained Williams at the 700 block of Española Way because he fit the physical description and clothing description of the culprit. According to the report, Williams was momentarily handcuffed “for his safety and the safety of the officers.” When the victim was transported to the scene where Williams was being detained, she confirmed he was not her attacker. Williams was immediately un-handcuffed and released, but not before an officer on the scene told him to pick up his trash (the McDonald’s bag), or else he’d be cited for littering.
Williams was none too pleased with the treatment or lack of an apology from the officers.
“I have never been so disgusted with Miami Beach Police Department. The way they handled the situation was horrible,” Williams said in a separate Facebook post Monday evening. “They handcuffed me out of nowhere while walking down my own block with a McDonald's bag, cell phone and keys saying that I matched the description of somebody with a knife. And then when I asked why [they were] handcuffing me, they're telling me to be quiet and listen with my ears.... I did nothing wrong! Obviously, from a mile away, you could tell I wasn't the person! And some of you wonder why black people have a problem with y’all.”
As upset as Williams was after the incident, he still changed into his drag clothes to host the karaoke night at Hotel Gaythering. “Yes, I did. The show must go on. I was taught that at as a young entertainer,” he said.
Williams met with Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates Tuesday afternoon to discuss the situation and then posted the outcome of the meeting on his Facebook page, along with a group picture with Oates and fellow officers.
“Growth comes from understanding both sides of the coin. Thank you, Police Chief Daniel Oates, for explaining what was going on that night, hearing me and my side of the story and trying to come up with a solution to the problem,” Williams said. “He and his team heard me as a citizen and as an African American male. I hope this can lead to a better understanding and growth.”
Ernesto Rodriguez, Public Information Officer for the Miami Beach Police Department, provided South Florida Gay News the following statement via email:
“Chief Oates, Deputy Chief Clements, Major Guerrero and I met with Mr. Williams this afternoon. This was a private conversation where we all openly discussed our concerns and the incident. We feel the meeting was very positive and Chief Oates reassured Mr. Williams that he and the Miami Beach PD is always available should he have any questions or concerns, we even took a group photo at the end.”