MIAMI GARDENS – Police Chief Matthew Boyd has stepped down from his position as head of the Miami Gardens Police Department, the city announce Wednesday.
The announcement from City Manager Cameron D. Benson came a day after the NAACP called for a federal investigation into alleged civil rights violations at a local store.
A video surveillance system is said to have recorded footage of police harassing and arresting customers and employees without cause.
Deputy Chief Paul Miller is taking over the department as interim head pending a search for a successor to Boyd with the help of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, Benson said in a statement.
“We are moving forward with an in-depth internal investigation and we are conducting this investigation in conjunction with the State Attorney’s Office and with outside assistance from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE),” Benson added.
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP State Conference and the Miami-Dade branch, told South Florida Times Wednesday the NAACP still wants a federal probe into the department.
Nweze said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday that the U.S. Justice Department must open a civil rights investigation into reports of police misconduct at the Quickstop convenience store at 3185 NW 207th St.
The alleged abuses were first reported in The Miami Herald. “The Miami Gardens Police Department must be prevented from implementing their Zero Tolerance Zone Initiative. We are requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice intervene immediately to protect the rights of the residents of Miami Gardens,” Nweze said.
Store owner Ali Saleh, a popular businessman in the community, said he installed 15 cameras after growing tired of seeing officers arrest his employees and customers for minor alleged offenses including trespassing and loitering on the premises. The cameras captured several incidents in which officers stopped and searched customers and yelled racial slurs during arrests.
The story went viral and was picked up by the media after Saleh uploaded several videos on YouTube, including one in which his employee Earl Sampson was arrested one of 62 times.
“This kind of behavior is pervasive and outrageous,” said David Honig, an attorney for the Florida NACCP. “Everyone has a basic expectation of privacy and dignity.”
Residents of Miami-Gardens, the third largest municipality in Miami-Dade and the largest majority black city in Florida with a population of 109,000, say they have grown to distrust the police force which says it is stepping up efforts to patrol the streets to reduce a high murder rate. Some 30 percent of the force is black, the majority being whites and Hispanics. Most of the officers recorded on camera patrolling Quickstop were white. Many of the videos show customers and employees doing nothing before getting searched and arrested.
Customers at the store say officers are usually unfriendly during encounters and rarely leave their cars except when making arrests.
Sylvia Starks, 53, a longtime resident who has lived in Miami Gardens before the city was incorporated some 10 years ago, said things were never this bad. Starks said she was stopped by officers several times, including once at the store after she bought a pack of cigarettes.
“There’s a lot of harassment here, but petty harassment,” she said. “They wanted to know what I had. You can’t walk the streets anymore without being harassed. It’s a constant thing. If you don’t have probable cause, why are you bothering me?”
Andrew Brown, 44, another resident who is a frequent customer at the Quickstop, said, “If you look at the video, you know it’s harassment.”
Saleh said officers have repeatedly used racial slurs to refer to his customers, treating them like criminals. Saleh has filed a civil rights lawsuit with nine customers against the city and the police department, saying the alleged harassment has affected his business.
“Customers would call me and say, ‘Hey, are the cops in front of your store?’” Saleh said. “Something was not right. The best way to fight crime is to have a great relationship with the community.”
NAACP leaders said they are working to set up a meeting with residents, city officials and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide an open forum to ease tension and restore trust between police and the community.