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11/26/2013

Florida man arrested dozens of times for going to work

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How's that stop-and-frisk thing working out in the crime-ridden Florida suburb of Miami Gardens? Not so well if your name is Earl Sampson.

Sampson, 28, has been stopped and questioned by police on the outskirts of Miami 258 times in the past four years, according to a Miami Herald investigation. 

Those brushes with the law include 62 arrests for trespassing -- and incredibly, almost every citation was handed out at the 207 Quickstop, the convenience store where Sampson works.

How can someone be trespassing at their place of work? That's what Sampson's boss, store owner Alex Saleh, wondered. So he started paying closer attention and noticed that most of the people arrested on his property, customers and employees alike, tended to be poor and black, like Sampson.

Saleh launched an internal affairs complaint with Miami Gardens police but the move backfired, he said, with police becoming even more aggressive upon learning of the challenge. Saleh then installed a network of 15 video cameras -- not for protection against crime as he'd never been robbed. The cameras were to protect his staff and customers from police.

The results: a series of five disturbing videos published by the Miami Herald that appear to show over-the-top police behaviour on the premises. In one video, employee Sampson is detained at the 207 Quickmart and led away by officers after taking out the trash, one of his work duties. In another, Sampson is interrupted by police while he seen stocking coolers inside the store, handcuffed and led away on trespassing charges. The arrest report, obtained by the Miami Herald, indicates Sampson was loitering outside the store, despite video evidence to the contrary.

Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment. Instead he issued a statement saying his department is "committed to serving and protecting the citizens and businesses," of Miami Gardens, pop. 109,000.

But the force soon may have another opportunity to address the questions -- store owner Saleh is preparing a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the department, under the direction of the city's top leaders, routinely conducts illegal stops and searches and other activities to cover up illegal misconduct.

From the other end of the Florida police blotter, meanwhile, St. Augustine is reeling after an extraodinary New York Times/PBS Frontline investigation raised new questions over the weekend about the possibility of a police coverup in the 2010 death of a deputy's girlfriend.

Do yourself a favour and take in the astonishing NYT account. Or the hour-long Frontline documentary. St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar, who refused to answer questions relating to the case, on Monday posted his version of events, including reasons why he chose not to discuss the matter with reporters. Shoar's official Facebook page, meanwhile, is loading up with comments, some in support, others demanding a federal investigation. 

Finally, why is all of this happening in Florida? Well, because Florida, right? Yes, well, we've tried to make that argument before, observing that the Sunshine State is the perfect Rob Ford antidote.

But Florida, we hasten to add, is also that state that just arrested one of its civic leaders -- Hampton Mayor Barry Layne Moore -- on charges of possessing and selling Oxycodone.

"This isn't Toronto," Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said in a statement on the mayor's arrest. "We will not tolerate illegal drug activity in my jurisdiction by anyone, including our elected officials."

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. On Twitter: @MPwrites.

 

 

 

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