Video footage of a Miami Gardens convenience store has revealed hundreds of seemingly suspicionless police stops and charges against employees and frequent patrons at the store. The footage comes from the owner of the store, who, fed up with aggressive police presence over his own objections, installed 15 cameras not to protect himself, but to capture misconduct by the police.
In a thorough exposé of the practices in the Miami Herald, Julie K. Brown details how a program akin to New York City’s stop-and-frisk has plagued the store, with employees seeing charges and even jail time for allegations of trespassing, even after owner Alex Saleh explained that the individuals were not trespassing, and worked for him.
One employee, Earl Sampson, has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years, searched more than 100 times, and arrested and jailed 56 times. The most severe charge was for marijuana possession.
In one arrest captured by the footage, police handcuffed Sampson while he was stocking coolers inside the store. The arrest report claims he was arrested for loitering outside the store. In another case, a different employee was charged with illegal possession of a firearm. But they never pursued the charges, because video footage showed that police found the gun under the store’s counter after performing an illegal search.
The stops are partly the result of a “zero tolerance” program Saleh signed up for three years ago, not knowing what the impact would be. “Under the program, Miami Gardens police are given broad powers to stop and arrest people who appear to be loitering or trespassing at the participating business,” according to the Miami Herald. After seeing how officers abused the program, stopping patrons incessantly, pulling employees out in the middle of their shifts, and searching his store without permission, Saleh told police he no longer wanted to participate in the program. But they kept coming.
Police even followed Saleh after he left the store one evening, and stopped him about six blocks away for a broken tail light. In all, six officers arrived at the scene, in footage captured by a police dashboard camera. “I thought, you know, there is a lot of serious crime in Miami Gardens,’’ Saleh told the Herald. “Why do they need six police officers on a car stop with a burned-out tag light?’’ Saleh now plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, signaling what could be the next showdown for aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics.