The Hialeah Police Department has gone on a camera-grabbing, rights-squashing, charge-trumping rampage against citizens in recent weeks without any apparent fear of repercussions, proving to be one of the most power-abusing police departments in Miami-Dade County.
And that’s saying a lot considering the rampant police corruption within the multitude of police departments down here.
The incidents began last month when a group of college students organized a “Harlem Shake” video, which is a recent fad where young people gather in public to perform a comical dance in costumes for the benefit of Youtube.
It’s a silly trend that was further popularized in South Florida by the Miami Heat who are currently riding a 24-game winning streak, the second highest in NBA history, with ten wins away to surpass the record set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971.
But the event organized by Florida International University students on Facebook was hardly worth anything more than mere police observation, considering it was scheduled to take place on a public greenspace at the north entrance to Hialeah, a working class municipality long been known for its corrupt politicians.
Although the concrete welcoming wall on the greenspace reads, “Hialeah, City of Progress,” locals know the city is about as progressive as Havana.
That’s why nobody was surprised when the Harlem Shake quickly turned into the Hialeah Shakedown.
Police swooped in and started making arrests while the youngsters were still setting up, incarcerating three people and confiscating two cameras – including one that has yet to be returned.
Police arrested three men on trespassing and resisting arrest charges, who spent an uncomfortable night in the Dade County Jail before visiting a judge the following morning, who wasted no time in dropping their charges.
However, police are refusing to return one of the cameras and only reluctantly returned the other camera after they viewed its footage and determined it contained no incriminating evidence against them.
“The only way for me to get my camera back is if the officer releases it,” said Eric Faden, a 22-year-old FIU student and outspoken libertarian.
But when he approached the cop, Hialeah police officer Fritz Generivie refused to give it back.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated series of incidents, Hialeah police confiscated two cameras from another man trying to hold them accountable.
Juan “Biggie” Santana
I wrote about Santana earlier this month when police confiscated his Sony Bloggie, claiming they feared it was a gun, which produced a sardonic laugh around the country.
They returned it a few days later but only after they had deleted his footage.
Officer Antonio Sentmanat also called code enforcement officers on Santana claiming that he was in violation of a municipal code because of a trailer he has on his property, which he says is acceptable because it doesn’t come close to surpassing the 30-foot length restriction.
Santana, 30, a heaving man of more than 500 pounds who plans to run for Hialeah mayor this year (as he recovers from a sleeve gastrectomy surgery he has planned next month where he expects to lose 180 pounds) is a longtime rabble-rouser.
So it’s not surprising the city’s mayor called him a “bully to Hialeah” when he stood before the city council earlier this week and complained that police had violated his First Amendment rights on several occasions.
Mayor Carlos Hernandez is a former cop, after all, having spent years working the beat in Hialeah.
Vowing to fight his code violation citation, Santana ventured to city hall to view the municipal codebook, which apparently is kept under lock and key by city officials.
He placed a Looxcie camera on his ear and entered into the city manager’s office, being quick to tell the administrators he was video recording them.
One city official told him he was not allowed to record. He quickly corrected her. A man behind a desk permitted him to record as long as he kept the camera trained on him.
The man then started claiming he was not allowed to record, so Santana turned it off for the time being, his goal only to record the text from the book that would help him win his case.
But they called the cops anyway.
Within minutes, eight cops arrived, including Commander Oscar Amago, who is described as a “thug” and the “mayor’s personal enforcer” by Pulizer Prize winning former Miami Herald reporter Elaine de Valle, who now runs a local blog called Political Cortadito.
She also referred to the city’s mayor as Carlos “Castro” Hernandez on her blog after Amago forced her out of a press conference because she didn’t have mainstream media credentials.
“I have made abuse of power reports to the Miami Dade and FDLE Police that have gone nowhere,” she said in an email.
“That police department needs intervention and oversight. They are a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
One cop told Santana he could be a terrorist because he was wearing a camera on his ear.
Amago threatened to arrest him if he did not turn the camera off.
“You entered a secured area in a government building which you are not allowed to tape,” Amago said.
“You need to shut that down right now. I have to impound that and show it to our detectives.”
Santana agreed to turn it off, but said he was doing it “under duress.”
“As soon as I turned the camera off, he snatched it right out of my ear,” Santana said.
Then they ordered him into a room where he was interrogated for an hour, before he was allowed to leave without his camera, so he could retrieve the cable that would allow them to view his footage.
Then they viewed the footage and determined he had not been “disruptive,” as the city workers had accused him of being.
But they warned him against posting the video he had shot inside the clerk’s office because a special needs student volunteer had been sitting in a chair and had been captured on some of the video.
They claimed there was some Miami-Dade County Schools policy that made it illegal to video record special needs students, even though there are surveillance cameras in that same building.
Santana knew there was no law against posting the student, but asked me to edit him out to keep the city officials focused on the actual law and not some stupid school district policy that probably doesn’t exist anyway.
Santana is lucky he now has both his cameras back, even though he is still trying to recover the footage from his Sony Blogger that was deleted by police last month.
It’s obvious that police don’t want to return Faden’s camera because it contains footage that shows them tackling him from behind.
But it’s been nearly a month since a judge dismissed his charges and Fritz Generivie has refused to return it.
“He told me to give him proof that it got dismissed and I’ll tell them to release the phone,” he said in a telephone interview.
When Faden offered to show him the proof from the county clerk’s website, he refused to look at it.
“He said, ‘I don’t have time for that,’” Faden said.
Faden says police have been hounding him for the code to his phone so they could examine the video but he has refused to give it to them.
Faden says the footage will show just how berserk police went as they tried to pull off their Harlem Shake video shoot, in which one student dressed in a banana suit was reportedly kicked out of the police academy because of his arrest.
“They started telling everybody to get out,” Faden said, which was very confusing because there was no question it was a public space.
Faden pulled out his cell phone and began recording, which was like waving a red flag in front of a matador.
“He goes fucking nuts,” Faden said. “He told me, ‘turn it off.’”
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Faden began walking away, holding the phone so it would record behind him as Generivie and other cops chased him down.
“They put their foot out and trip me,” he said.
He jammed the phone in his pocket as several cops piled on top of him, one of them stuffing his hand in Faden’s pocket to remove the phone.
He ended up in handcuffs in the back of a police car. He now has a lawyer.
But Hialeah is not afraid of lawyers. And they’re not afraid of the local media either considering anything that does get reported rarely sparks any solid investigations.