The police chief of Miami Gardens is resigning, weeks after allegations arose that his officers stopped and searched customers of a convenience store as a matter of routine. Charges of racial profiling and civil rights abuses were bolstered by videos that showed police frisking and arresting people.
Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd, who is black, had planned to resign in January. He stepped down today, according to The Miami Herald, which published an expansive report on the allegations two weeks ago.
Here’s some background from NPR’s Greg Allen, whose report will air on Thursday’s Morning Edition:
“The town just north of Miami has struggled with a string of deadly shootings in recent months.
“In response, the city began what it calls ‘Zero Tolerance’ operations — increasing police stops and arrests, even for misdemeanors.
“The police chief’s resignation comes after a store owner and some residents filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court.”
The resignation also comes one day after the NAACP asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights inquiry into what it said “may be the most pervasive, most invasive, and most unjustified pattern of police harassment in the nation.”
Much of the troubling police activity centered on the Quickstop, a store whose owner had worked with police on security efforts — but who came to believe that officers were violating basic rights in searching customers and his store without a warrant, and questioning and arresting people with seemingly little or no cause.
“Some of the store’s customers were questioned hundreds of times over the past four years for minor infractions, such as trespassing and violating liquor law ordinances,” The Miami Herald reports. It adds that the store’s owner, Alex Saleh, “was disturbed by how his customers were being treated.”
The Herald highlighted an extreme example when it broke the story two weeks ago — that of Earl Sampson, a man who “has been stopped and questioned 258 times in the past four years,” as Eyder reported for The Two-Way last month.
The kicker? Sampson, 28, was arrested for trespassing — but he works at the Quickstop, as a clerk. Some people were cited for minor violations as many as three times in a day, The Herald said.
The store’s owner “set up a series of cameras not to protect his business from crime, but instead to capture the actions of police,” Eyder wrote. “Now those videos will become the centerpiece of a federal civil rights lawsuit being filed by the store’s owner.”
According to The Herald’s report today, “Miami Gardens is the third-largest city in Miami-Dade County and the largest predominantly black city in the state.”
Boyd had been the city’s first police chief, taking up the post after Miami Gardens decided to create its own police force instead of relying on Miami-Dade County officers.
The Herald also notes a racial disparity between the town’s population and its police force.
“Records obtained by The Herald show that nearly all the commanders — and most of the officers in the squads — are white and Hispanic,” the paper says. “The city’s population is about 80 percent black. The police force is 30 percent black.”
A state investigation into the Miami Gardens police force’s practices is ongoing, The Herald says.