Police Procedure Violates Constitutional Rights

The Miami Herald recently reported on a disturbing case involving law enforcement’s repeated run-ins with a particular man in Miami Gardens. Over the course of the last four years, Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times, searched 100 times, and arrested and taken to jail 56 times.  Considering these substantially numerous run-ins with the law, it is surprising that he has never been convicted of any crime besides simple possession of marijuana.  The offense he has repeatedly been arrested for? Trespassing at a convenience store.  Sampson works at the store as a clerk.

Samson is apparently just one of many other store employees and customers who are stopped and searched by police.  The majority of the suspects are low-income and African American.  The Owner of the store grew so desperate at the interaction that he decided to install surveillance cameras.  As a result, he has obtained more than two dozen videos since June of 2012 that depict some concerning conduct on the part of Miami Gardens police.

The videos show some aggressive police behavior, including searches and arrests for trespassing when the individual actually has permission to be on the property, searches of the store without a warrant of the owner’s permission, and use of excessive force and inaccurate police reports on more than one occasion – all of which are clear violations of constitutional rights.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Florida, is calling for action on the part of the city’s police chief.

In many ways, any corrective action will likely be seen as too little, too late. The store’s owner, along with his attorney, is already getting ready to file a lawsuit for violation of civil rights in federal court.  They plan to argue that the police department has routinely directed its officers to conduct racial profiling, illegal stops and searches and participates in activities to cover up illegal misconduct.

The City of Miami Gardens

Miami Gardens’ population is predominantly black, and its citizens have expressed distrust of police for a number of years. The owner of the convenience store said he has witnessed Miami Gardens police officers continuously use racial slurs in reference to his customers and treat them unfairly.

The owner of the store ended up filing an internal affairs complaint about the incidents at his store after gathering the video footage. Rather than serving to deter similar future conduct, his actions only seemed to cause the officers to get more aggressive.

Zero Tolerance

About three years ago, the store owner said he agreed to participate in a zero tolerance program to reduce crime, at the request of Miami Gardens police.  According to the terms of the program, police are given broad powers to stop and arrest people who appear to be loitering or trespassing at the participating business.

The idea behind the program is based on the “broken window theory,” which says that a community that rids itself of petty crime can eradicate more serious crime, due to a community sense of mutual responsibility.  The owner immediately regretted his cooperation.  After enduring the aggressive police behavior for some time, he decided to terminate his participation in the program.  Despite this, the officers continued the same surveillance of the store.

Unfortunately for Miami Gardens, it does not appear that the outrage will fade any time soon.  The Miami Herald published a follow-up story  that ten citizens are filing federal civil lawsuits against the city The plaintiffs claim that Miami Gardens police officers, for years, have practiced a pattern of unconstitutional stop-and-frisks, searches, seizure and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The lawsuit, filed late last week, was brought by the owner of the convenience store, and a group of his employees and customers. The suit alleges that the police routinely used racial profiling in arresting the store’s mostly African American employees and customers.

An experienced Florida attorney can help you determine if your constitutional rights have been violated.  Contact us today to discuss your case.