…Saleh, whose store is tucked between a public park and working-class neighborhoods, contends that Miami Gardens police officers have repeatedly used racial slurs to refer to his customers and treat most of them like they are hardened criminals.
“Police line them up and tell them to put their hands against the wall. I started asking myself ‘Is this normal?’ I just kept thinking police can’t do this,’’ Saleh said.
Last year, Saleh, armed with a cache of videos, filed an internal affairs complaint about the arrests at his store. From that point, he said, police officers became even more aggressive.
One evening, shortly after he had complained a second time, a squadron of six uniformed Miami Gardens police officers marched into the store, he says. They lined up, shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed in front of them, blocking two grocery aisles.
“Can I help you?” Saleh recalls asking. It was an entire police detail, known as the department’s Rapid Action Deployment (RAD) squad, whom he had come to know from their frequent arrest sweeps. One went to use the restroom, and five of them stood silently for a full 10 minutes. Then they all marched out….
…“Rest assured that our department is fully committed to complying with the laws that govern us,’’ Boyd said in his written statement emailed to the Herald Wednesday. He added that he was also committed to “exceeding the expectations of those that rely on us, and providing the best possible service to the residents of this great City.’’…
…About three years ago, Saleh said police asked him to participate in what they called a “zero-tolerance” program to reduce crime. He gladly signed up, not realizing at the time how much it would impact his business and customers. Under the program, Miami Gardens police are given broad powers to stop and arrest people who appear to be loitering or trespassing at the participating business.
The idea behind the program is based on the “broken window theory,’’ a concept that has been employed by police around the country. The theory holds that a community that rids itself of petty crime, such as shoplifting, vandalism and trespassing, can eradicate more serious crime because criminals won’t have anywhere to hide.
Drago said the idea does work — but only if a police department has built a good relationship with its residents.
“There’s a lot of groundwork that has to be laid with the community before you start sweeping,’’ he said.
Almost immediately after Saleh put the “zero-tolerance” sign in his window, he regretted it.
Miami Gardens police officers, he said, began stopping his patrons regularly, citing them for minor infractions such as trespassing, or having an open container of alcohol. The officers, he said, would then pat them down or stick their hands in citizens’ pockets. But what bothered Saleh the most was the emboldened behavior of the officers who came into his store unannounced, searched his store without his permission and then hauled his employees away in the middle of their shifts. He finally told them he no longer wanted to participate in the program and removed the sign.
The officers, however, continued their surveillance of his store over his objections. The officers even put the sign back on his store against his wishes, he said.
One video, recorded on June 26, 2012, shows Sampson, clearly stocking coolers, being interrupted by MGPD Sgt. William Dunaske, who orders him to put his hands behind his back, and then handcuffs him, leads him out of the store and takes him to jail for trespassing.
More than once, Saleh has told police that Sampson is an employee and is not trespassing.
On that June arrest report, obtained by The Herald, police explained the trespass arrest, saying that Sampson was arrested for loitering outside the store when in fact the video, which has a date and time stamp, clearly shows him being handcuffed and arrested inside the store.
FDLE records show that Sampson was stopped at least once a week for the past four years, and sometimes several times a week and even as many as three times in one day. The stops are often conducted by the same police officers, who have arrested him time and time again.
“I never felt they had any probable cause,’’ Sampson said. “They hop out of the car and search me before they even ask me for my name.’’
Saleh theorizes that it’s an easy way for the department to make it seem like they are making a large number of arrests.
“They have specialized units to combat crime and they need to bring in the numbers to justify those units,’’ Saleh said.
Said Sampson: “We have people shooting, killing, robberies. This is really ridiculous that they spend so much time arresting people for trespassing.’’
Another employee, Ron Picart, was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. The case was never filed by the state attorney because the officer, Dunaske, found the firearm under the store’s counter during an illegal search, which was video recorded.
…Since Saleh has served notice that he is going to sue the city, Sampson hasn’t been arrested, and police are not as active in the store’s parking lot.
But Saleh is mindful of his David vs. Goliath battle with the city’s police department. He worries about his safety, and carries a licensed firearm.
In December, Saleh was followed out of his parking lot by a Miami Gardens police officer, who stopped him after a few blocks. The officer, Carlos Velez, said he stopped Saleh because his tag light was out.
Two other squad cars arrived at the scene, bringing the total number of officers on the scene to six. A police dashboard camera captured it all.
“I thought, you know, there is a lot of serious crime in Miami Gardens,’’ Saleh said. “Why do they need six police officers on a car stop with a burned-out tag light?’’
Another officer, Eddo Trimino, approached Saleh’s passenger side, opened the door and removed a gun that was in a bag containing the store’s money, Saleh said. They ran a check on the gun, which Saleh was licensed to carry.
They cited him for having a bad tag light, tinted windows and bald tires.
Before leaving, the unit’s then-sergeant, Martin Santiago, allegedly told Saleh:
“I’m going to get you mother-f——-,’’
The next day, Saleh viewed video of his truck as it pulled out of the parking lot the night before.
His tag light was working….