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Police sued for alleged racial profiling, stop and frisk

A civil rights lawsuit has been filed against city officials and police in Miami Gardens, Fla., alleging racial profiling in some incidents caught on tape.
Miami Gardens Police
Miami Gardens police officers stand guard outside the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church a day after the verdict to the George Zimmerman murder trail July 14, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Nearly a dozen plaintiffs have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the mayor and police chief in Miami suburb alleging the use of racial profiling, stop-and-frisks and other questionable police tactics targeting African-American citizens. 

Attorneys filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of Ali Amin Saleh, the owner of a Miami Gardens convencience store, and 10 other customers and employees, including Earl Sampson who claims he was a common target while working at the Florida shop. The suit alleges that between 2008 and 2013, Miami Gardens Police Department "unlawfully searched without reasonable suspicion or arguable probable cause" citizens at Saleh's Quickstop convenience store on multiple occasions. The City of Miami Gardens is named as a defendant, along with city officials and police members including Mayor Oliver Gilbert III and Chief of Police Matthew Boyd. 

“Put simply, we believe the civil rights of African-American citizens in Miami Gardens are being violated,” attorney Carlos Reyes, principal for the law firm representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “[L]ow-income African-Americans, typically young men between ages 15 and 30, are consistently harassed and abused with little or no cause. Because this treatment is pervasive, consistent and long term – having taken place over a period of four years – we believe it represents a sanctioned policy by the City of Miami Gardens, its representatives and police department."

According to the lawsuit, police unlawfully stopped, searched, and arrested Sampson nearly 300 times in the two years he has worked at the store. Saleh says police harassed other employees too. 

Saleh installed surveillance cameras in his convenience store after noticing that police were frequently targeting citizens in his store. He's since captured dozens of brushes with police on camera.

Saleh told the Miami Herald that he agreed to join a police “zero-tolerance” program to reduce crime about three years ago. He said he quickly regretted it, having underestimated the impact it would have on his business, giving officers broad powers stop, question, and even arrest people they believe to be loitering or trespassing.

The Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd told msnbc in a statement that the department's goals are to enforce state laws "in a manner that shows respect and concern for the residents and businesses that we are charged with protecting."

Miami Gardens, a predominently African-American city in North Central Miami Dade County, has struggled with crime for years, and has recently touted reduced crime rates in the city. 

Mayor Oliver Gilbert, has so far declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but has commented on the videos in the past, telling the Miami Herald he found them, "disturbing and disheartening, especially in a city whose leaders are nearly all African American."

“I can’t be a mayor of a city that’s 80% black and having officers harass black people for doing nothing,’’ Gilbert said. “You can’t get arrested for just going to the store.’"

City officials say they have launched their own investigation into the matter, headed up by newly appointed City Manager Cameron Benson, a former prosecutor and civil rights attorney, according to CBS Miami.

The local State's Attorney's Office had been investigating the incident too, but will not pursue charges against any of the officers. “The complainant claims Mr. Sampson was an employee, but can produce no records to support that claim,” the state’s close-out memo said, according to CBS Miami. “At best, Mr. Sampson was an off-the-books day laborer.”