When store owner Alex Saleh agreed to participate in a police department “Zero Tolerance Policy” three years ago in his Miami neighborhood, he didn’t think it would lead to police continuously stopping, frisking and arresting his own customers and employees. Now he says that’s exactly what’s happening.
One of his employees, Earl Sampson was reportedly arrested 62 times for trespassing, often while on the job—inside the store as he worked. The Miami Herald reported that Sampson was stopped a total of 258 times and searched more than a 100 times in four years.
“Officers started coming in front of the business and stopping everybody and arresting people for trespassing and searching people. They walk inside they go you, you, and you. Come outside,” Saleh said in an interview with Fusion on Friday.
Saleh, 36, was so upset about the police treatment he installed surveillance cameras, inside and outside his Quickstop store in Miami Gardens, to document police activity.
Saleh showed Fusion the video evidence he gathered, pointing to footage of the police arresting Sampson. “Okay now you’re gonna see Earl walking toward the open beer cooler. Now the officer is walking into the store and says ‘what are you doing here?’”
Saleh said his cashier told the police officer that Sampson worked there. “He says ‘I don’t care, you’re going to jail,” Saleh said. The officer’s actions as captured on the video, speak for themselves, he said.
“I started looking at the video personally to see how officers walk in and take everybody. I see there was abuse. Straight abuse.” Saleh told Fusion he complained to police about what he saw as harassment and told them about the videos, but says that only made the cops more aggressive. Now he is preparing to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.
“This is bullies with badges,” Saleh said. “I started looking at the video personally to see how officers walk in and take everybody. I see there was abuse. Straight abuse.”
The American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, too, is asking questions, and told the Miami Herald that it’s unlikely that police behavior like this could escape the attention of the police chief in Miami Gardens.
In a statement to Fusion, Miami Gardens Police said, “Whenever we receive a complaint regarding one of our officers, not only do we take it seriously, but we swiftly investigate the allegations. Our goal as a department is to enforce the laws of the State of Florida in a manner that shows respect and concern for the residents and businesses that we are charged with protecting."
Customers hanging out at the store on Friday afternoon said they witness troubling police behavior routinely.
“It's not once a week but two or three times it's going on,” said Andrew Brown. “You do get harassed, you get frustrated but how do you fight back?“ he said. “Most of us don’t complain because we don’t have the resources to complain, we don’t know how.”
Stop and Frisk police policies have been making headlines, especially in New York City, where police say it’s one of their most effective crime fighting tools. A recent court ruling there found police stop-and-frisk policies were carried out unconstitutionally, discriminating against minorities. The City has tried to fight the ruling by removing the judge who made the decision, but a federal appeals court ruled Friday that the decision should stand.
Across the country police departments are having to respond to calls to ensure civil liberties are not violated. Some police departments are moving toward using cameras that could help capture stop and frisk incidents. In Cleveland, Ohio and Rialto, Cali. have implemented camera programs; the southern California town reports formal complaints against officers have since fallen 88 percent.