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March 2010 Cover
March 2010 Cover

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March 2010 Email this to a friend
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Gay man sues after false arrest

By Joseph Erbentraut

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Claiming that two police officers wrongfully arrested a gay man who witnessed them beating a suspect, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida announced its plan to sue both the offending officers and the Miami Beach Police Department.
Harold Strickland, a former resident of Miami Beach who now lives in Los Angeles, said he was walking near Flamingo Park in March 2009 when he saw two men in uniform kicking and punching a man in handcuffs "like a football."
When officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi approached Strickland, he was already on the phone describing the violence to the 911 dispatcher. After being pushed to the ground and peppered with anti-gay slurs, Strickland was jailed on a loitering-or-prowling charge. The charges against both Strickland and the other man were later dropped.
Robert Rosenwald, director of the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocacy Project, said his office has received many reports of gay men being harassed and targeted in that area in recent years.
"The police have been chasing gay people out of the Flamingo Park area, arresting them, trumping up charges and beating them up, so we've been looking for a case to challenge it for a long time," Rosenwald told Guide magazine. "This is a systemic problem of policy that the department needs to deal with."
In response to the ACLU challenge, the Miami Beach Police Department reassigned the officers to desk duty pending the result of an internal investigation. Chief of Police Carlos Noriega and City Manager Jorge Gonzalez also attended a meeting with the city's gay Business Enhancement Committee a week after the lawsuit was announced.
Herb Sosa, a member of that committee, indicated that the department was responding to their concerns. They have promised to more accurately report hate crimes in the city and appointed two openly gay officers to posts where they will address gay issues.
"I have nothing but praise for them, and I think a lot of positive came out of the meeting," Sosa said.
While sharing Sosa's optimism, Rosenwald further emphasized it was not an isolated incident. Strickland's coming forward represents a rare, courageous case.
"They've said this is something that doesn't extend to the department as a whole, but that's simply not true," Rosenwald said. "We think the negative publicity on this case has made them more serious and willing to do the right thing, so I'll take them at their word and we'll have to wait and see."

Author Profile:  Joseph Erbentraut

Joseph Erbentraut is a Wisconsin-born freelance writer and editor currently living in Chicago. His articles on politics, music and culture have been featured in the Village Voice and other publications. He also blogs at Chicagoist.


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