Suppose you were a clerk at a convenience store and the police arrested you there 62 times on one charge: trespassing.
You read that right. Arrested multiple times for trespassing while at your place of employment.
What’s going on?
Well, that’s what Miami Gardens, Fla., store owner Alex Saleh is trying to figure out. One of the employees at his store, 207 Quickstop, Earl Sampson, has been stopped and questioned 258 times, searched more than 100 times and arrested and tossed in jail countless times, the Miami Herald reports.
According to Saleh, Sampson, other employees and even his customers have been repeatedly stopped and frisked by Miami Gardens police, sometimes as often as three times a day.
Most of them, the Herald reports, are like Sampson. In two words: poor and black.
Saleh couldn’t take the constant harassment anymore and ended up installing 15 video cameras in his store—not to protect himself from criminals, but from the police.
What these videos reveal is shocking, the Herald reports.
Cops are seen stopping people, questioning them, searching them and arresting them for trespassing. They even conducted searches of the 207 Quickstop without a search warrant or Saleh’s permission.
"There is just no justifying this kind of behavior," Chuck Drago, a former police officer and consultant on police policy and the use of force, told the Herald. "Nobody can justify overstepping the constitution to fight crime."
The video also shows police appearing to use unnecessary force on people who were not resisting and filing inaccurate reports about the arrests, the Herald notes.
The police chief and city manager have been quiet so far as outrage has been brewing. The chief, Matthew Boyd, only released a statement saying that the police department was committed to serving and protecting its citizens and businesses.
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Florida scoffed at the irony of the statement.
"Where is the police chief in all this? In a police department in a city this size, this kind of behavior could not escape his attention," he told the Herald. "Doesn’t the City Commission know that they are exposing the city to either massive liability for civil rights violations? Either that, or they are going to wake up one day and find the U.S. Department of Justice has taken over its police department."
As for Saleh, he’s wasting no more time, according to the Herald. He is prepping to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that the police department has routinely racially profiled and conducted illegal stops and searches to cover up illegal misconduct.
According to Saleh, it all began about three years ago when police asked him to participate in a "zero-tolerance" program to reduce crime. He signed up, not realizing what it would really cost him. He had essentially just given the police the ability to stop and arrest people who appearing to be hanging around or trespassing.
Saleh said he regretted his decision to sign up shortly after putting the required notice into his window, the Herald reports. The police came, started stopping his customers, writing them up for trespassing or other minor things like open containers of alcohol.
When he said he wanted to stop participating in the program and removed the sign, officers continued to monitor his store and put the sign back up against his wishes.
"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," the Venezuelan native of Palestinian descent told the Miami Herald, speaking of an example when officers have used racial slurs to address customers, saying they were treated like seasoned criminals.
As for Sampson, he’s baffled that this is what officers are spending time on.
"We have people shooting, killing, robberies. This is really ridiculous that they spend so much time arresting people for trespassing," he told the news site.
“I never felt they had any probable cause,’’ Sampson added. “They hop out of the car and search me before they even ask me for my name.’’
Saleh thinks it’s just a way to amp up the number of arrests.
"They have specialized units to combat crime and they need to bring in the numbers to justify those units," Saleh said.
But now that official claims are coming forward, Saleh is worried about his safety, wary of the police department. The Miami Herald reports that he had started walking around with a licensed firearm.
And maybe his fear is justified.
The Herald reports that in December, Saleh was followed out of the parking lot by an officer who stopped him a few blocks away. Shortly after, two more cars arrived.
The officer cited him for a burned-out tail-light, tinted windows and bald tires.
Before leaving, the then-sergeant of the unit, Martin Santiago, had a few words for Saleh.
“I’m going to get you, mother-f——-,’’ Santiago allegedly said.
Read more at the Miami Herald.