Five Miami Cop LGBTQ Harassment Stories | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


A Brief History of South Florida Cops Harassing LGBTQ+ People

Hollywood Police have now raided the same adult store twice in a single year. This past Thursday, Hollywood cops arrested 13 men for masturbating and having consensual oral sex in a secluded, private room — hardly the sort of police work that makes locals safer. Thanks to Hollywood PD, 13 men will likely be harassed or retaliated against by their families or employers simply for consensually enjoying themselves at a gay-cruising destination.

Unfortunately, Miami's media outlets made the whole thing worse by uncritically publishing the arrestees' names, ages, hometowns, and mug shots at the end of last week. Thankfully, the Miami Herald edited its original story after New Times complained, but other TV outlets are still smearing the 13 men.

So as proof of how backward and outdated it is to raid a gay-cruising spot in 2018, here's a rundown of a bunch of times in the past when Miami-area law-enforcement officials have been accused of harassing gay people or LGBTQ+ hangouts:

1. In 1995, a lesbian couple (including one former cop) said Miami-Dade Police officers were intentionally harassing them for holding lesbian-friendly events at their house.

Former Metro-Dade police officer Pat Yodice and her housemate Mary Butt had just finished dishing out slices of a birthday cake when some uninvited guests showed up at their Sunday afternoon backyard barbecue. A swarm of law enforcement types — members of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department's vice squad, agents from the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and members of the city's code team — vaulted the six-foot wooden fence surrounding the property, located in Coral Ridge, a quiet suburban neighborhood a mile or so north of downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Armed and clad in black SWAT-type gear, more than a dozen officers and agents put a quick halt to the festivities. According to spokesmen for the various agencies, the May 7 party wasn't your typical barbecue. It was a business venture run by lesbians without a license.

Carol Owsiany, a supervisor at the Division of Alcoholic Beverages, says the women began holding weekly pool parties about six weeks ago at the house Yodice owns, and charging admission of five dollars per person. When the Fort Lauderdale police caught wind of the gatherings, they approached state agents about joining them in a secret operation. "It meant going in there undercover on several occasions," Owsiany recalls. "They went in undercover and made alcohol buys from a premise that didn't have a [liquor] license."

During the raid 32-year-old Yodice and 47-year-old Butt were handed notices to appear in court and charged by police with operating an illegal business. Betsy Walker, a 36-year-old Metro-Dade police officer who dates Yodice and was present at the barbecue, was also charged. (Walker owns the mortgage on Yodice's home but does not live there.) The property was cited for eight violations of the building code, including a strand of Christmas lights stretched along the edge of a overhang near the pool in the back yard, the overhang itself, extension cords for the lights, as well as solar roof panels and a shed that came with the house when Yodice purchased it in December. The Division of Alcoholic Beverages is contemplating whether to charge Walker and Yodice with selling alcohol without a license and running a business without a liquor license, both of which are second-degree misdemeanors and carry possible fines of $500 or up to 60 days in jail.

A nine-year veteran who was fired from the Metro-Dade Police Department last October for what the department terms "multiple physical and mental problems," Yodice contends the incident is merely one of many illustrating Metro-Dade's hostility toward her lifestyle. (She has filed suit against her former employer; the case is set for trial next month.) She and Walker were guests on a January 12 segment of Geraldo, titled "Lesbian Cops Walking a Different Beat," during which they described how county employees made clandestine videotapes of them working together and followed them home when their shift ended. Someone also scrawled the word dyke on Yodice's locker and on her desk, the women said.
2. In 2010, the ACLU sued Miami Beach Police for an alleged "pattern and practice" of harassing and beating gay men.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has moved forward on their lawsuit against the city of Miami Beach by officially filing the suit in federal court today. The complaint stems from a 2009 incident in which Harold Strickland, an openly gay former resident of the city, was wrongfully arrested after calling 911 to report that police officers were beating a handcuffed man near Flamingo Park. While the suit only concerns the single incident, the ACLU claims it highlights disturbing trends in the Miami Beach Police Department of "unlawfully targeting gay men for arrest without probable cause and harassing and arresting people who observe, document, and/or report police misconduct."

Stickland witnessed two officers, Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi, beating and kicking a downed gay man in handcuffs. Strickland called to report the attack to 911 but Forte and Hazzi then arrested Strickland while allegedly verbally abusing him.

"Gay men have been reportedly targeted by Miami Beach police near Flamingo Park for decades. Often, police target gay men walking near Flamingo Park for nothing more than looking 'too gay'," said Robert Rosenwald, Director of the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocacy Project in a statement. "When police officers become the problem rather than the solution, the City needs to take action. 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."
3. Miami city officials opened investigations into the Upper Eastside's Tokyo Valentino soon after it opened.
It's not so much that neighbors in the Upper Eastside of Miami want the Tokyo Valentino closed simply because it's a gay club. In fact, they're more upset that it may not actually be quite such a proper gay club. They think the club, which sounds like it was named after an Asian drag queen obsessed with couture, is actually an adult entertainment business. Now, Open Media Miami's Sergio N. Candido reports the City of Miami has opened an investigation.

Tokyo Valentino is located at 8330 Biscayne Blvd., just a store front over from Don Bailey Flooring's infamous nude male centerfold-esque billboard, in fact. After paying a $10 cover charge and checking in, guests are allowed to boogie on the dance floor, shoot pool in the game room, or, uh, snuggle up for a good movie with a friend in one the lounge's private rooms. Unlike a traditional bath house, the rooms aren't rented out and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but some residents are concerned that the place is basically a glorified bath house. The opposition claims that the club is selling adult videos and purposefully facilitating sexual encounters.

Owner Mike Morrison tells Open Media that he won't stop guests from bringing their own DVDs to watch in the rooms, and he's not going to say anything if anyone brings in something XXX. Though he denies he's running an adult business. Open Media says the place is "just like Jamboree, a gay lounge a few blocks away on Biscayne Boulevard."
4. Miami Beach Police systematically raided gay clubs throughout the 1990s.
The Miami Beach PD's first modern conflict with South Beach's gay community, by all accounts, came in late 1995 and early '96 when cops raided three gay clubs — Paragon, Twist, and Glam Slam — and busted dozens of patrons on drug charges. Gay leaders saw it as a crackdown on their community.

Police soon began larger outreach efforts to bridge the gap, and later that same year, the Miami Beach City Commission asked cops and gay leaders to collaborate on a new problem: gay men cruising Flamingo Park.

Gary Knight, then a member of the Beach's gay and lesbian task force, worked with police to spread the word the park was off-limits. For the most part, the collaboration worked, Knight says, but "one officer was abusing his role right away, spending all his time in Flamingo and harassing anyone gay," Knight recalls.
5. Broward County cops and state officials raided a series of popular gay nightclubs in the early 1990s.
During the past six months, [the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco] has been particularly busy, issuing 22 emergency orders to suspend liquor licenses, two more suspensions than were ordered over the entire previous year. "I just don't know if it has to do with the economy or the availability of cocaine," says Richard Boyd, chief of law enforcement for ABT's southern region, "but we want the licensees to know we don't condone this. Having a license is a privilege. Not everybody can qualify to get a liquor license and not everybody can run their business properly to keep it."

The two most recent busts took place early this past Sunday morning in Miami Beach. Club Boomerang, at 323 23rd St., and A.M./P.M., the after-hours club in the old Club Nu site at 245 22nd St., were raided by local police and state ABT officers after an investigation conducted by both agencies. A total of three arrests for drug possession were made, and ABT issued emergency orders suspending the liquor licenses of the establishments.

Since March of 1991, eight Dade and Broward clubs had their licenses suspended for allowing illegal drug sales. Four of them, including Uncle Charlie's, catered to a gay clientele. Cheers in South Miami, Club 21 in Pembroke Park, and the Copa Cabaret in Fort Lauderdale were all raided last May. In each case, the ABT negotiated with the club owners. Agreements were reached and fines, ranging from $10,000 to $12,000, were paid. The Copa's owners retained their license; the proprietors of Cheers and Club 21 had their licenses revoked but were permitted to sell them.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli

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