At a press conference this week announcing the findings of a Department of Justice investigation, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that police misconduct is not just happening in Ferguson.
“Although the concerns we are focused on today may be particularly acute in Ferguson – they are not confined to any one city, state, or geographic region,” Holder said.
That’s no surprise to residents of Miami Gardens. The Florida city, about halfway between Miami Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, is one of the largest black-majority cities in the nation and has a history of policing issues. Last year, Fusion conducted a comprehensive investigation into Miami Gardens’ “stop and frisk” style policy and found it may be unparalleled in the nation.
One man, Darrell Hanley, 46, says he feels an affinity with the residents of Ferguson. “Everything I heard about Ferguson is basically true here, too. It’s like it’s the same place,” he told Fusion.
Here’s a list of the most shocking things we’ve learned about Miami Gardens. The Miami Gardens Police Department did not return Fusion’s requests for comment on this story.
After reviewing 99,980 “field contact” reports between 2008 and 2013, Fusion found that over half the population there had been stopped, written up, and often identified as “suspicious.” None of these stops, though, led to arrests.
But thousands more were arrested after being stopped by the police, raising the total number of people ensnared by the policy to 65,328 during the five-year period. The city’s population is 110,000.
“I have never seen a police department that has taken the approach that every citizen in that city is a suspect. I’ve described it as New York City stop-and-frisk on steroids,” said Miami-Dade County Public Defender Carlos Martinez at the time.
According to recent records, the number of people stopped by Miami Gardens police has dropped significantly since our report. Residents say they’re still harassed.
8,489 people age 18 and under were stopped and written up by police. Their names appeared in a publicly available database. Many were stopped for "suspicious behavior.” According to police records, even a 4-year-old was stopped for being "suspicious.”
Denzel Flowers remembers the first time he was stopped by the Miami Gardens Police Department. He said he was hanging out in a neighborhood park in the middle of the day when police approached him. Denzel said he was just 15 years old. “We were all chilling in the park,” Denzel told Fusion. “The police stopped everybody. Told us don’t move and ran everybody’s names.” That was the first of a string of 27 police stops, according to field contact records examined by Fusion. Denzel was also arrested four times before he was 18 years old, but he has never been convicted of any crime. “I couldn’t leave my house without being in fear,” he said.
1,775 senior citizens were stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens Police Department, many just outside their retirement home. One of them, according to police records, was 99 years old when he was stopped because the police said he was “suspicious.”
Earl Sampson worked for nearly three years at the 207th Street Quickstop, a convenience store that became an epicenter for police stops. Earl, 28, told us he’d been stopped more than 200 times by the Miami Gardens Police Department. According to records obtained by Fusion, MGPD stopped him and filed a field contact report 181 times. In addition, Earl was arrested 111 times. Seventy-one of those arrests were for trespassing at his place of work.
One time, Sampson was actually in jail having already been arrested, but officers wrote up another contact report for him at the same time. A police officer still active in the Miami Gardens Police Department told us he saw that sort of thing happening a lot. “The main thing was we were forced to come up with numbers or we wouldn’t get overtime.” He said, “We were told to write up field contacts for people who weren’t in the city.”
Over 1,000 people in the city were stopped more than 10 times.
Police Officers in Miami Gardens filed affidavits confirming they were told by the former police commander of operations, Anthony Chapman, to stop every black man they saw. In an affidavit filed in January this year, police officer Jose Rosado says he was told, “If you arrest someone for open containers, it’s just as good as arresting them for homicide.” One officer who still works in the department told Fusion racial profiling continues there. “They wanted us to stop all black males between 18-30 years old,” he said. “Wherever they were, if they were outside their own house… it didn’t matter.”
On February 22, Lavall Hall, a 25-year-old black man, was fatally shot by police in the middle of his own street. Hall suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and was going through a psychotic episode when his mother decided to call the police for help to get him back to the hospital, where he’d been a week earlier. Soon after the police arrived—with knowledge of Hall’s mental illness, his mother says—he was shot twice. Hall’s family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and police department of Miami Gardens.
The Miami Gardens Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Previously, its chief told Fusion the two officers involved with Hall’s shooting are currently on paid injured administrative leave.
7. In October of last year a county judge determined the Miami Gardens Police had falsified documents.
Judge Mary Jo Francis reversed 32 arrests and convictions of Miami Gardens resident George Baptiste between 2010 and 2013. She found that officers had arrested Baptiste for ignoring "trespass warnings," but that those trespass warnings never actually existed. In her remarks Judge Francis wrote: “Police officers may not create crimes in order to make an arrest…The arrest of innocent citizens by renegade police cannot be condoned by the courts."
Last spring, the city hired Police Chief Stephen Johnson to "bring peace to a troubled police force accused of racial profiling," the Orlando Sun-Sentinel wrote. Last week, Johnson lost his job after being arrested for soliciting prostitutes.
Once labelled The Velvet Hammer, Alice is a muckraking, grime-chasing, crime-stopping investigative producer. She is passionate about justice and interpretive dance.
Tamara Weston is a Los Angeles native turned New Yorker turned Miamian. She's a digital team manager and the digital producer for AMERICA with Jorge Ramos.