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Miami Beach Sued for Wrongful Arrest, Officers Reassigned

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The American Civil Liberties Union is planning to sue the city of Miami Beach, Fla., claiming the city allowed two cops to harass a former resident.

Harold Strickland says he was harassed and wrongfully arrested after he called 911 to report two police officers beating another gay man near a popular local park, Flamingo Park, in March 2009, according to a statement from the ACLU.

According to the statement, the man who was beaten, identified only as John Doe, was chased by Miami Beach police officers into a parking lot and beaten. As the officers chased him, he yelled, "Who are you?" and "Why are you chasing me?"

Strickland witnessed the chase and assault, and he called 911, telling a dispatcher that the man had been handcuffed and was being kicked "like his head was a football." Strickland attracted the attention of the two officers beating Doe, and they demanded to know what he was doing. They took his cell phone and ended the 911 call. When he said he was reporting the brutal attack, one officer told him, "We know what you're doing here. We're sick of all the fucking fags in the neighborhood."

The ACLU statement says the officers then pushed Strickland to the ground and tied his hands behind his back. They continued to threaten him and sling antigay slurs at him until they took him to the police station. He was charged with loitering and prowling, charges the state's attorney later declined to prosecute.

Robert Rosenwald of the ACLU of Florida says gay men have been targets of the Miami Beach police force in the area of Flamingo Park for decades.

"Often, police target gay men walking near Flamingo Park for nothing more than looking 'too gay,'" Rosenwald says. adding that "Strickland fulfilled his civic duty by reporting what he recognized as police misconduct, but as a result he became the subject of verbal abuse and wrongful arrest."

Strickland, 45, now lives in Los Angeles.

In a notice to the city, required before filing a lawsuit, the ACLU demanded that the Miami Beach Police Department institute immediate remedial action to halt the harassment, intimidation, and arrest of gay men near Flamingo Park and individuals who observe, document, or report police misconduct.

The message also noted that Miami Beach police have a history of arresting people who witness police misconduct, particularly African-Americans.

The Miami Beach Police Department released a statement Thursday regarding the alleged incident:

"The City of Miami Beach became aware yesterday (Wednesday, February 3, 2010) of an incident that was reported to have occurred almost one year ago. As a result of these allegations, the Police Chief immediately ordered an internal affairs investigation, and a review of the reported events has begun.

"After a preliminary review of the information gathered, a decision was made to reassign both officers involved in the reported incident to administrative duties effective immediately and pending the conclusion of the investigation.

"We cannot comment further on this open, ongoing investigation, or on any potential litigation."

Listen to Strickland's 911 call below:

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