Miami Beach police stop enforcing new law after brutal arrests


Miami Beach Police said they have stopped enforcing a new law that critics say has encouraged officers to stop bystanders using their phones to film police on duty.

The law, which criminalized standing within 6 meters of officers with “intent to embarrass, provoke or harass them,” was passed in June and cited in a series of controversial arrests following a chase and teardown that led to five police officers accused of excessive use of force.

The department announced it had suspended law enforcement on Thursday, the same day the Miami Herald reported a further incident involving the order in which police sprayed pepper and arrested a New York woman who had filmed a traffic stop in South Beach. end of July. A spokesperson said the directive was actually released late last month after a disturbing series of arrests.

On July 26, Chief Richard Clements “verbally” ordered his deputy chief to suspend the enforcement of the order, according to department spokesman Officer Ernesto Rodriguez.

The temporary shutdown, Rodriguez said, will allow all Miami Beach officers to receive “additional in-person training on the nuances of the order.”

The new law and the arrests

The department did not mention the app’s hiatus, as the Herald reported on a previously unpublished video showing how police sprayed pepper on a 27-year-old New York tourist, Mariyah Maple, after peacefully recording a traffic stopped in the 600 block of Collins Avenue on July 25.

Maple, who was later charged under the order, can be seen recording as a police sergeant asked her to leave and, before she could respond, whipped her bike like a shield, hit his hand and immediately sprayed pepper spray. Sgt. Vincent Stella was assigned to administrative duties while the department reviews the incident.

Maple’s arrest report says she was part of a group that “stood firm and refused to budge” after Stella used her bicycle to “create a physical barrier”, forcing her to use gas pepper.

The incident marked the third time in recent weeks that the video has contradicted Miami Beach police arrests under the order.

Thirteen people were arrested under the order, according to arrest data provided by police. At least eight of those arrests involved people using their phones to register officers. All 13 were young black men or women. Most of them still face a possible criminal trial, including Maple.

The order, which the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously approved on June 23, only gained visibility after a series of brutal arrests at the Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach on July 26. .

In a case that garnered national attention, two New York men were arrested under the same order while filming police at the hotel. Khalid Vaughn, 28, was filming police as they repeatedly beat a handcuffed man accused of fleeing from police after hitting a policeman with a scooter.

Vaughn was then thrown against a concrete pillar and repeatedly punched and elbowed in the head and rib cage while on the ground. Vaughn’s friend Sharif Cobb was also arrested – and beaten by an officer – after filming officers as they waited outside the hall to transport his friend to jail. The charges against the two men were dropped by the state attorney’s office.

In the aftermath, five Miami Beach police officers were charged with assault and battery after prosecutors said they used excessive force to make arrests.

These three arrests appear to be the last made under the order.

“At the direction of the Chief of Police, the MBPD has temporarily suspended the application of Order CMB 70-8 until all Miami Beach officers receive additional in-person training on the nuances of the order. As a result, there have been no arrests under this order since July 26, ”Rodriguez wrote in a statement.

Emails obtained by the Miami Herald show the police department – which has drawn criticism for its handling of the large, mostly black crowds that periodically flock to the city for Memorial Day weekend, spring break and other events – in a rush to get it up and running before the crowds arrive for Rolling Loud, the hip-hop festival that draws thousands of fans to South Florida.

Political reaction

Miami Beach Commissioner David Richardson, who co-sponsored the ordinance, was the only commissioner to raise questions at a recent meeting about the potential impact of the ordinance on citizens’ rights to film police in public. He told the Miami Herald on Friday that Clements assured him the ordinance would not be used to limit the right to film officers.

“I support the suspension of this order while officers receive additional training to effectively and legally enforce the letter and spirit of this new order,” Richardson wrote in a statement. “If other areas of concern are identified, then the Commission should review this order and make the necessary changes. “

City officials and the Miami Beach Police Union insist the law is not intended to target cops recording video and is necessary to protect officers from the types of unruly mobs that police say and city leaders, caused chaos in South Beach over the spring break.

Commissioner Steven Meiner, who sponsored the order, said on Friday he supported the decision to suspend all enforcement of the order until officers receive additional training.

“The management of our police department informed me today that in-person training for officers is underway and will be completed within the next week,” Meiner wrote in a statement.

Mayor Dan Gelber, who voted to approve the ordinance, said Clements must now determine whether the new law effectively addresses the problem and how best to train officers in its application.

“The ordinance is obviously very similar to a state law that requires compliance with a legal police order, but if there is any confusion as to how to apply it, they must be trained in it properly.” said Gelber. “I think our chief of police is trying to make sure that it doesn’t unintentionally chill the video recording.”

Miami Beach Police have in the past been accused of incorrectly and aggressively responding to people who recorded them while on duty. Activists have also long accused Miami Beach police of treating minority groups unfairly.

Gelber said the intent of the law was to give police an additional tool to protect themselves from rowdy crowds in the South Beach entertainment district. The party atmosphere in the neighborhood, he said, contributes to a more dangerous environment for police and passers-by.

“The entertainment district poses real challenges for policing,” he said.

Martin Vassolo covers Miami Beach politics and government for the Miami Herald. He started working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he was editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter in the Herald subway office and political reporting intern.

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