The October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness has requested Fort Lauderdale’s Citizens Police Review Board to investigate allegations of the use of racial slurs by officers who also trashed the property of four homeless persons, according to the victims, two of whom are black, and two white. Following is our letter to the CPRB detailing the reasons for our request.
Dear Fort Lauderdale Citizens Police Review Board Members:
In my capacity as founder of and organizer with October 22nd to End Homelessness, I learned from a group of homeless individuals early on the afternoon of July 12, 2016, that they had been harassed that morning by three Fort Lauderdale police officers who, these individuals allege, threw away their belongings, detained them for two hours, trespassed them from the entire beach area and, during the course of their interaction, used the racial slurs, “nigger bitch” and “nigger lover,” against the one black and one white woman in the group of four. Also among the group were the white woman’s black boyfriend and a white male.
The incident occurred from about 9 to 11am in the vicinity of A1A and Las Olas Blvd., they told me as I interviewed them about a block from the central bus terminal on NW 1st Street, approximately two hours after the incident occurred.
To add insult to injury, while I was interviewing the four individuals, sitting on the sidewalk just a stone’s throw from city hall, two BSO officers and FLPD Sgt. Jaime Costas, who knows me from my homeless advocacy work, accosted the group and advised them not to sit at this spot because, as he put it, the folks in city hall didn’t want homeless people sitting in view of the building.
When I advised Sgt. Costas that none of the group were violating any laws by unobstructively sitting on the sidewalk, he aggressively approached Erica Muskgrow, the African American woman in the group, grabbed from her a covered plastic cup with what appeared to be beer in it, sniffed it to confirm its contents, then began to put handcuffs on Ms. Muskgrow, stating that he was arresting her because I’d had the audacity to note that the group weren’t breaking the law. Ultimately I, and perhaps Sgt. Costas’s better angels, talked him out of making the arrest.
I did, however report the incident to an Internal Affairs Detective Studers, who unequivocally sought to deter me from filing my complaint, which I did over the phone, and all the while lauded the good work done by Sgt. Costas for the homeless community. I thought Det. Studers, as with all the police involved in this situation, was also, at best, unaccountably biased in his response to an incident of alleged misbehavior on the part of a colleague. For an internal affairs detective, such an approach should be considered unacceptable.
Here’s an account of the incident in the weekly paper, New Times, whose reporter, Jess Swanson, interviewed both the victims and me: http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/homeless-womans-belongings-thrown-out-twice-in-three-weeks-7927606
And here is a letter emailed by Florida ACLU Staff Attorney Adam Tebrugge to City Attorney Cynthia Everett later on the day of the incident. The main focus of his letter was to apprise the city of the problematical nature of its enforcement of the ‘Outdoor Storage Ban.’ As of this writing it has not received a response:
From: Adam Tebrugge
Sent: Tuesday, July 12, 2016 4:09 PM
Subject: Destruction of property of homeless citizens
July 12, 2016
Cynthia Everett, Esq.
City Attorney, City of Ft. Lauderdale
Assistant City Attorney
Dear Ms. Everett:
Dear Mr. Boileau:
My name is Adam Tebrugge and I am a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida.
We have recently received multiple complaints that the City of Ft. Lauderdale has seized and destroyed the personal property of homeless citizens. Recently the Broward New Times has published several articles that document and report on this activity:
The reports we have received, and these media accounts, strongly indicate that the City of Ft. Lauderdale is not even following its own municipal ordinance.
I have just now received additional reports of widespread destruction of property this morning (7/12/16) at Las Olas Blvd. and A1A, on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Specific officers of the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department have been identified as taking part.
As you are hopefully aware, any confiscation of property must provide the protections of due process of law, guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, and respect the Basic Rights guaranteed by Article I, Section 2 of the Florida Constitution (“All natural persons are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to . . . possess and protect property.”) Additionally, the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the unreasonable search and seizure of property.
In Pottinger v. City of Miami, 810 F. Supp. 1551, 1559 (SD Florida 1992), Judge Atkins specially noted: “For many of us, the loss of our personal effects may pose a minor inconvenience. However, as Carter’s testimony illustrates, the loss can be devastating for the homeless.” As the media reports document, the recent actions by the City of Ft. Lauderdale are more than devastating — they are life threatening when prescription medications are seized. As Judge Atkins concluded in Pottinger: “The property of homeless individuals is due no less protection under the fourth amendment than that of the rest of society. Requiring the City to follow its own written policy with respect to the property of the homeless class members should not be significantly more burdensome than it is with respect to any other property. Accordingly, the court finds the City liable for its unlawful seizures of class members’ property.”
I would respectfully request that you immediately advise all employees of the City of Ft. Lauderdale to stop the confiscation of property in Stranahan Park and elsewhere within the City of Ft. Lauderdale.
Thank you for your attention to this request. Please let me know your response.
Adam Tebrugge | Staff Attorney
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
P.O. Box 21142 Tampa, FL 33622-1142
Direct (813) 288-8390 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself | http://www.aclufl.org
While the letter above makes no mention of the racial slurs, the reference to police violations of homeless persons’ property rights is meaningful both in terms of the July 12 trashing of property and other reports I’ve received from homeless persons of police illegally searching their belongings.
Also, referenced neither in New Times’ story nor the ACLU letter are the names of the officers who were involved in the July 12 incident and who allegedly used the aforementioned racial slurs. This information was shared with me by Erica Muskgrow, Jennifer Shoop, Deondre Smith and Roy (last name unknown) during my July 12 interview of them. Officer J.D. Hancock, Badge #604, used racial slurs; Officer K. Rohloff (unsure about his use of racial slurs); third officer unidentified by name or badge (didn’t use racial slurs nor speak to group). One drove FLPD cruiser #6783.
There should be an internal record of a call from one of the officers, during the time frame of the incident, to have a city dump truck dispatched to the scene, as the individuals have alleged their belongings were trashed and hauled off while the incident was in progress. I am seeking a record of this communication.
Furthermore, I’ve heard at least two accounts of racial slurs being used by FLPD officers Burke and Fernandez, while working their detail at the main branch of the library adjacent to Stranahan Park. One woman alleged that Fernandez referred to her as a “black nigger” during a recent encounter.
It has been over a year since the members of this board addressed racism in the ranks of the FLPD during its meeting of May 11, 2015, which was well attended by board members, city officials and citizens, alike, in the wake of the exposure of racist text messaging by four FLPD officers, who subsequently lost their jobs as a result. While City Manager Lee Feldman only a few months later would go back on his assertion from that meeting – with the rehiring of Officer Jeffery Feldewert – that such racist behavior would not be tolerated, zero tolerance for racism on the part of police must be the order of the day, every day. Here’s what was written about what the city manager said, taken from the minutes of that meeting:
“Mr. Feldman confirmed that the City found the actions of the four terminated Officers to be intolerable, nor would these actions be tolerated by any other individuals employed within the Police Department or the City.”
I urge you to launch a thorough investigation into these allegations of racist and other, possibly illegal, behavior on the part of the above named Fort Lauderdale Police Department officers, and that appropriate disciplinary measures be meted out, including the possible terminations from employment of the officers involved.
I also look forward to a preliminary discussion of these issues at your forthcoming meeting next Monday, August 15, which I and other concerned citizens plan to attend. Thank you and…