The City of Miami Beach on Monday
agreed to pay Harold Strickland $75,000 to settle a suit that claimed
the police department was targeting gay men.
The American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) of Florida, which represented Strickland in the lawsuit,
announced the settlement.
“For years, the ACLU has received
reports about two systemic problems with the Miami Beach police: the
harassment of gay men in and around Flamingo Park, and the
retaliation against persons reporting police misconduct,” said ACLU
of Florida LGBT staff attorney Shelbi Day. “We are hopeful that
this settlement marks a turning point for the City of Miami Beach in
seriously addressing these chronic problems.”
In the suit, the ACLU alleged that in
2009 police officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi arrested and
harassed Strickland, a gay former Miami Beach resident, after the
called 911 to report he had witnessed Forte and Hazzi beating a gay
man – who lay handcuffed on the ground – in Flamingo Park.
In his 911 call, Strickland said, “And
they pushed this guy on the ground, the one cop did, and the other
cop came up, as if he was kicking a football and kicked the guy in
the head. Just some aggressive behavior going on and I'm not sure
it's acceptable, to be honest.” (Listen
to the 911 call.)
The officers arrested Strickland for
loitering and prowling in the park, charges he pleaded no contest to,
but which later were dropped.
The ACLU alleged the arresting officers
yelled anti-gay slurs at Strickland as he was being booked, including
multiple instances of calling him a “fucking fag.”
The city took the police officers off
patrol and assigned each to desk duty as it proceeded with an
internal investigation. Last week, the city announced it was firing
Forte and Hazzi.
The officers' attorney, Gene Gibbons,
said his clients are being “railroaded” by the city.
“The way it's being construed is
these two guys are some kind of hate mongrels,” he said. “That's
not the case at all.”
The city has also agreed to implement
training addressing the harassment of gay men by police officers who
patrol Flamingo Park.
“The most important thing to me since
that night has been that someone had to be held responsible for what
was happening in the city that used to be my home,” Strickland
said. “It's sad that it took someone going through what happened
to me for the city to start taking this problem seriously, but I'm
hopeful that after today's settlement it will never happen to anyone