It has been nearly ten months since my neighbor, Howard Bowe, was shot by police in his home. It has been nearly six months since I first wrote about the incident. Exceptionally little media coverage has been given to the death of Bowe or his pit bull, Tank, who was also killed by police. Nearly ten months later, the case is still “under investigation.” No information can be made available.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Hallandale Beach has taken some steps to address the use of force by police, but the conversation continually avoids mention of actual shootings, actual deaths, and the very real people who get harmed when things go wrong. As part of this process, I participated in a Town Hall in Hallandale Beach last night to help voice the concerns I have not only as a lawyer, but as an average citizen who has concerns about the way police approach situations both generally and specifically.
Many important topics were discussed among a group of power that has the power to make the necessary changes.
Topics That Were Discussed
- What should parents tell their children to do if confronted by police? Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein warns parents to tell their children not to engage with officers on the streets or use any sudden movements. The only fight with a police officer that can be won is in a courtroom.
- What training is being done to address how to deal with the mentally ill? Little training has been done so far, but there is “a movement” in Broward County to begin addressing this.
- What are the police doing to police themselves? Short answer: Police cannot police themselves. Police officers are like family to each other. One cannot police their own family.
- On police body cams: It is generally agreed that police body cams are a wonderful tool in preventing violence, preserving evidence, and increasing trust. However, body cams will not cure all problems and there are troubling issues regarding privacy, especially in one’s home. Questions re: police body cams in homes give rise to the question of why a police officer would be in one’s home in the first place and the protection of privacy from police with or without cameras.
- How do we engage the under-25 demographic? Although maybe 200 people showed up to the Town Hall, almost none were under 25. Pastor Michael Anderson stresses that youth outreach requires empathy and true leadership. You will not reach youth by arresting them; civil citations for nonviolent offenses keep youth from having an arrest record, becoming part of the system, and being disadvantaged forevermore.
- On the street drug known as Flakka: Flakka, apparently, is a synthetic drug that will literally eat your brain. It has terrible, horrible side effects and you are unlikely to ever recover. Do not ever, ever, under any circumstances, try Flakka. Or for that matter, any drug that anyone makes in their bathtub.
- On this being the first of many steps: Repeatedly hammered home, particularly by HBPD Chief Flournoy, was that the Town Hall was only the first step in a long process of building trust and improve police-community relations. Already the city of Hallandale Beach is planning more forums designed to listen to citizen concerns and reach out to the youth. There is some hope that the meeting was not merely a discussion, but part of a movement that will lead to actual change.
Topics That Weren’t Discussed
While concerns about police in general were discussed at length, very few specifics were mentioned. Topics that directly affect Hallandale Beach were not given weight, such as the ongoing dysfunction of the city government, the racial divide between the east and the west sides of the city, the militarization of the HBPD, or how police approach and treat people in low-income areas as opposed to the beachfront condos.
Leaders repeatedly stress the importance of accountability and transparency in building trust, but little information ever reaches the public as to the size and scope of the problem. What follows is a list of incidents involving Hallandale Beach police and the community that give rise to concern. This list is not designed to impugn the character of the HBPD or any individual officers; it is published here because these incidents need to be a part of the conversation if we are going to effectively prevent similar incidents in the future.
- 2009-2014: Hallandale Beach officers “have discharged firearms at other persons in a total of eight separate incidents. One of the incidents was a non-contact shooting, four of the incidents resulted in injuries to one subject in each event, and three of the incidents resulted in one fatality each.
- October 2009: An HBPD officer is accused of punching, kneeing, beating, and pepper-spraying Kenneth Salazar during a routine traffic stop. Salazar is later awarded $82,054.16 in a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the city.
- September 2010: City Commissioner and local pastor Anthony Sanders is pulled over with his teenage sons in the car. He and the kids are held at gunpoint until the situation is resolved. Local outcry leads to a community discussion on aggressive police tactics, but the problem does not go away.
- January 2012: Unarmed shoplifting suspect Gregory Ehlers, Jr. is shot three times by an HBPD officer while cornered on a rooftop. Ehlers was suspected of stealing items from the Aventura Best Buy. Ehlers’s estate sued for wrongful death, vicarious liability, and a civil rights violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The city eventually settles a lawsuit with his estate for $150,000.
- June 2012: Former HBPD officer German “Jimmy” Muino is involved in a hit-and-run crash on Ocean Drive. Muino hits a BMW, causing $10,000 worth of damage and minor injuries to its teen driver. When the sergeant in charge, Sgt. Paul Winters, realized Muino was former HBPD, he ordered a community service aide to alter the police report so that Muino would not be charged with a felony. It worked. Muino was only charged with making an improper U-turn and the case was dismissed.
- September 2012: Three HBPD officers shoot and kill shoplifting suspect Eduardo Prieto outside of a restaurant on US1. Prieto allegedly stole clothing & DVDs from Walmart. One witness described at least 10 shots in two volleys; another witness claimed there were at least 20 shots and that police came out guns drawn and opened fire after about a minute.
- March 2013: Sgt. Paul Winters is fired for his role in the 2012 Muino cover-up as well as interfering with the Internal Affairs investigation. Winters then sues the city to get his job back. During the investigation, Chief Flournoy states that the HBPD does not keep a record of the Internal Affairs complaints filed against its officers.
- April 2013: HBPD shoots a burglary suspect at 800 block of SW 3d St. Per the Sun Sentinel, “Investigators say as the men tried to run away, police felt threatened.”
- March 2014: HBPD was conducting an “enforcement action” when “something went wrong.” An unnamed black man in his car was shot by police in the arm around US1 & SE 9th St.
- May 2014: Howard Bowe and his dog, Tank, are shot by HBPD in in a botched SWAT raid. Police say no one else was in the house, which was contested by his sister, who said that she and Bowe’s son were in the house and that police beat and interrogated the minor child.
I am all for being part of the discussion moving forward on what we can do to prevent abuse of power and excessive force in the future. But I am not willing to ignore the recent past. Avoiding difficult discussions of people who have been beaten, shot, or killed makes it all the more difficult to rebuild trust. Staying mute on the real consequences of police overreach does a disservice to the victims and their families.
The problems in Hallandale Beach are not abstract and the people harmed are not statistics. Families who lose loved ones can never be made whole again. People subject to abuse and wrongful arrest are likely never to believe in higher concepts such as justice, equality, and the rule of law. These incidents are important to discuss not simply for accountability, but so we don’t make the same mistakes over and over and over again.
Suggested citation: Brian M. Stewart, The Pink and Yellow Duplex Part II: Peace Talks, @LawBlarg (Feb. 27, 2015), http://blarg.legalmechanics.us/pink-and-yellow-duplex-part-ii.