Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina announced this weekend that his department was investigating an incident in which a Miami police sergeant handcuffed and detained a black doctor in front of his own home. Dr. Armen Henderson says he was loading up his van with supplies he planned to take to the city’s homeless to help them weather the coronavirus epidemic.
As the Miami Herald reports, Henderson was detained last Friday as he was offloading a white van in the sidewalk in front of his home. The 34-year-old physician says the officer, who wasn’t wearing a mask and is shown in surveillance footage repeatedly getting up close to Henderson, put his health at risk.
“I feel like I should get tested, honestly,” Henderson told ABC News. “Most likely I will because he definitely was spitting in my face. I could feel it while he was yelling at me.”
Footage provided by Henderson shows the beginning of the altercation, in which the doctor, wearing a surgical face mask, can be seen taking boxes out of the back of his van when a police cruiser approaches. The video, which doesn’t have audio, shows the two appearing to have an exchange as the officer is still sitting in the driver’s seat of the cruiser. As they talk, the officer steps out of the car.
The video skips at this point, and it’s unclear whether it was edited or whether the security camera itself jumped. The next frame shows Henderson with his mask partially off, shaking his head as he walks away from the officer and onto the sidewalk. After another exchange, the officer marches up to the sidewalk, takes handcuffs out of his pocket, and proceeds to detain Henderson.
In an interview with ABC News, Henderson said he was arrested after the sergeant asked for identification, which the doctor didn’t have on him. Recounting the incident to the Herald, Henderson recalled, “[the officer] said, ‘You should refer to me as sir, or sergeant when talking to me.’ I never said I was a doctor. But I didn’t cuss. He just grabbed my arms and cuffed me.”
Afterward, the officer can be seen leading Henderson back to the front of the cruiser, at one point jabbing his finger in the doctor’s face as he continued speaking to him. Henderson called out to his wife, who met the police officer with a copy of the doctor’s ID, at which point Henderson was released.
“He didn’t apologize. He just got in his car and drove away,” Henderson told ABC News.
In a video statement addressing the incident, Chief Colina said the Miami Police Department “does not condone or accept profiling of any kind.” But, he added that there was “a little bit of context” to the incident involving Henderson.
“We have had a litany of complaints pertaining to illegal dumping. The commissioner from that area has received many complaints as well from the constituents,” Colina said on the video. “There is a cargo van that’s parked in front of that home where there appears to be trash that’s being offloaded. That is the genesis of the stop. Now, what’s happened after that, what’s being discussed, the actions taken, etcetera...all that needs to be investigated and it will be investigated.”
Henderson, a doctor at the University of Miami, was in the news last month for taking part in a collective effort to protect Miami’s vulnerable homeless population from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He and dozens of volunteers provided nasal swab testing on the streets of Downtown Miami in late March and provided tents to those without homes.
Henderson referred to it at the time to the Miami Herald as an act of “civil disobedience,” since the aid could be interpreted as defying Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez’s order to stay off the streets.
The irony isn’t lost on Henderson that, despite being a first-responder in the biggest public health crisis this country has faced in a century, he was still detained for no apparent reason.
“It’s ironic because the police department released a whole video that morning saying, ‘We thank first responders,’” Henderson said. “But even if I wasn’t a doctor, why do you feel the need to stop me during a pandemic? Don’t you have other things to do?”