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Mayor Oliver Gilbert said the allegations made by Saleh about police misconduct are untrue. The city has reached out to him in the past and he hasn’t been cooperative, he said. -Miami Herald, Nov. 23, 2013.
"I can’t be a mayor of a city that’s 80 percent black and having officers harass black people for doing nothing. You can’t get arrested for just going to the store." -Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, Miami Herald, Nov. 27, 2013.
Well, that didn't take long.
Last week, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert told the Miami Herald that there was absolutely no way that his police officers were engaging in a pattern of systematic harassment of the owner, employees and patrons of a gritty, nondescript convenience store on NW 207th Street.
The Herald's Julie Brown reported in Friday's paper that Miami Gardens police were "stopping citizens, questioning them, aggressively searching them and arresting them for trespassing when they have permission to be on the premises; [and] conducting searches of [owner Alex] Saleh’s business without search warrants or permission; using what appears to be excessive force on subjects who are clearly not resisting arrest and filing inaccurate police reports in connection with the arrests."
According to Brown, one employee, Earl Sampson, has been arrested by Miami Gardens police 62 times for trespassing.
Brown's report was backed up with video from the store's surveillance cameras.
But, what a difference few days makes.
At some point over the weekend, Gilbert apparently sat down at his computer and Googled "miami gardens police department" and learned that Brown's story had gone viral, spreading like wildfire on the Internet.
Today Brown reports that Gilbert has had a change of heart.
After being shown some of the videos, Brown writes that Gilbert found the footage "disturbing and disheartening, especially in a city whose leaders are nearly all African American."
So what did Gilbert see that disturbed him so much?
From today's Herald:
[Cameras] caught a police officer confronting a frail-looking woman, shoving his hand in her purse, dumping its contents on the pavement, then kicking at the scattered items before walking away.Brown reports that one Miami Gardens officer, William Dunaske, was caught on camera as he approached 70 year-old Willie Battle outside the store last January.
They were rolling as another uniformed police officer handcuffed a 69-year-old man, then rifled through his pockets and ordered him to sit down while cuffed behind his back, a feat the man could only accomplish by falling on his backside.
There’s more footage: An officer grabs a plastic bag full of Red Bull drinks from a man, flinging the cans on the sidewalk, then picking up one and giving it away to someone in a parked car.
It’s not like the officers didn’t know they were being recorded.
They not only knew, the videos show, but in some cases, they relished it, taunting the store’s owner by waving open beer cans and cups, taken from customers, directly in front of the cameras as if the cans were trophies.
On that day, Officer William Dunaske, approached Battle, questioned him, took his beer, then ordered him to empty his pockets. But Battle was slow, and Dunaske, apparently to speed things along, asked him to put his hands behind his back, so he could handcuff him.A Google search reveals that Dunaske has a history of abusive and unprofessional behavior dating back to when he was a deputy sheriff in Lee County, FL.
Dunaske then proceeded to stick his hands in Battle’s pants pockets, pulling out wads of paper and dropping them at the man’s feet. He led him toward a patrol car, where Battle was directed to sit on the pavement, a feat the handcuffed Battle managed to accomplish only by letting himself fall on his injured backside.
“I’m almost 70 years old, I can’t sit on the ground like that,’’ Battle said. “I told them to let me sit in the back of the police car, but they said I had to sit on the pavement.’’
|In 2006, Miami Gardens officer William Dunaske was a detective |
with the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
Naples Daily News photo by Michel Fortier.
In 2011, the Naples Daily News reported that Dunaske, and his boss, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, were sued by two Fort Myers pawnbrokers.
Two Fort Myers pawnbrokers have sued Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott and a deputy, alleging Scott has a policy of intimidating and threatening to arrest pawnbrokers and conducting illegal searches and seizures. Brothers Christopher and Ryan Close say former Deputy William Dunaske, 39, had a history of complaints by pawnbrokers, illegally jailed them and others without probable cause, yet Scott continued to employ him.
Records show Dunaske, who was hired in December 2003, resigned on Sept. 26, 2009.
The lawsuit gives this account:
Dunaske entered Larry’s Pawn East on April 13, 2009, while Christopher Close was working and announced he was conducting an investigation.
“Deputy Sheriff Dunaske proceeded to seize items and paperwork and caused a disruption to the point that Christopher Close could not transact business,” the complaint says.
“We’ll see if my sergeant is having a good day or a bad day,” Dunaske told him. “If he is having a bad day, you’re going downtown.”
Dunaske falsely accused Close of conducting transactions and filling out forms that violated the pawnbroker act, then arrested him.
“Deputy Sheriff Dunaske handcuffed Christopher Close and placed him in the back seat of an extremely hot police cruiser for approximately one hour,” the lawsuit says, alleging Dunaske refused requests for a glass of water.