MIAMI, FL – The ACLU of Florida today reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the City of Miami Beach and two Miami Beach police officers on behalf of Harold Strickland, a gay former Miami Beach resident wrongfully arrested in March 2009 in retaliation for calling 911 to report that two Miami Beach police officers were beating and kicking a man who lay handcuffed on the ground near Flamingo Park.
“For years, the ACLU has received reports about two systemic problems with the Miami Beach police: the harassment of gay men in and around Flamingo Park, and the retaliation against persons reporting police misconduct,” said ACLU of Florida LGBT Staff Attorney Shelbi Day. “We are hopeful that this settlement marks a turning point for the City of Miami Beach in seriously addressing these chronic problems.”
The settlement reached today requires the City of Miami Beach to pay Harold Strickland $75,000 which includes attorneys’ fees, as well as enact new policies regarding the reporting of police misconduct. The city will also implement specific trainings for new police officers addressing the harassment of gay men by police in and around Flamingo Park, as well as the rights of citizens to document police behavior.
In March 2009, Strickland was walking in South Beach and talking to his sister on his cell phone when he saw two men – undercover Miami Beach police officers Frankly Forte and Eliut Hazzi – chase, tackle, and beat a young gay Hispanic man in a parking lot next to Flamingo Park. Strickland hung up with his sister and called 911 to report the attack.
When the officers saw Mr. Strickland, they approached him, took his cell phone, and arrested him on charges of loitering and prowling and claimed he was trying to break into cars – a claim refuted by Strickland’s 911 call. On the way to the police station, officers Hazzi and Forte hurled anti-gay epithets at a handcuffed Mr. Strickland and suggested that he could be made to “disappear.”
The ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Strickland against the City of Miami Beach and the officers on November 29, 2010.
“Harold Strickland should be commended for his tenacity and courage in the face of injustice,” stated ACLU cooperating attorney Ray Taseff. “From the initial 911 call to today’s settlement, Harold has seen it as his civic duty to right a wrong and stop the abuse of power. The lesson from today’s settlement is that with a little courage, you can make a difference in the community.”
Among the changes mandated by today’s settlement is the inclusion of new training language for Miami Beach police officers, including the following: “Improperly prohibiting or punishing a citizen from observing, documenting, or reporting a police officer’s conduct violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
“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,” stated Strickland. “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.”
Last week, officers Forte and Hazzi were terminated by the department.