Miami Beach 411 Reporter Arrested For Taking Photos Of Police
The way Miami Beach police officer David Socarras reacted to getting his photo taken, you would think he had been caught in the act of doing something illegal.
It was Memorial Day Weekend 2009. Hip hop weekend. That time of year when hordes of black men and women descend upon Miami Beach for a weekend of urban debauchery, which traditionally kicks off with hundreds of locals fleeing town and ends with police making hundreds of arrests.
My assignment was to determine whether this weekend was as chaotic as people make it out to be. Or as the media makes it out to be.
I ended up getting arrested. One of 548 arrests that weekend. I did nothing illegal.
My “crime” was photographing a pair of Miami Beach police officers leaning against a squad car. Or more precisely, asking one of the officers his name after he ordered me to delete the photo.
Socarras initially charged me with disorderly intoxication because he said I reeked of booze. I welcomed him to give me a breathalyzer, but he neglected to do so.
Under Florida law, a person is guilty of disorderly intoxication if he is endangering the safety of another person or causing a public disturbance while drunk.
I did neither. I snapped a photo without a flash from a respectable distance as you can see in the above photo. He stormed up to me and ordered me to delete the photo. I refused.
He then walked back to his group of officers and I walked up to him and asked for his name to include in my article. I was immediately handcuffed.
I was thrown in the back of a paddy wagon with a group of other young men who had no idea why they were arrested. One of them said he was standing outside a club when cops came by and ordered everybody to disperse.
One of the officers didn’t think he was walking fast enough, so he ended up in handcuffs and in the back of the paddy wagon.
Another man said he was walking away as instructed when he inadvertently stepped into the street. That got him arrested.
Another man, Michael Rosa who was visiting from Philadelphia, was arrested after he pulled up onto the sidewalk in his rental scooter.
His charges were reckless driving and resisting arrest without violence.
After spending the weekend in jail and paying more than three thousand dollars in court and legal fees, he ended up pleading guilty to reckless driving.
“I lost a lot of money on a misdemeanor case that would have just been handled as a traffic ticket here in Philadelphia,” he said.
“Before I got arrested, I was having a good time. Everybody was. There was no drama. No fights. Everybody was chilled but the cops were aggravating the situation. They were being more forceful than the situation required.”
Rosa says he will never come back to Miami again on Memorial Day Weekend.
“The police are too crazy down there.”
A case of deja vu for me
In my case, the State Attorney’s Office probably realized they did not have enough evidence to support a disorderly intoxication charge, so they switched the charge to resisting arrest without violence, which is a questionable charge in itself because there is no underlying charge to base it on.
Nevertheless, it is not uncommon in Florida to be charged or convicted on a single charge of resisting arrest without violence.
In fact, the last time I was arrested for photographing cops against their wishes, I ended up going to trial on several misdemeanors, only to be acquitted of everything except resisting arrest without violence.
However, I appealed that charge and had the conviction reversed after a panel of three circuit judges determined that Miami-Dade County Court Judge Jose L. Fernandez displayed bias in sentencing me.
On January 12, I am scheduled to face Fernandez again in the trial of my second arrest. I’m hoping he remains more objective this time around. Only time will tell.
Those of you who have read my blog are familiar with my story and my activism in promoting photographers rights. Not only is photographing cops in public legal, it is protected by the First Amendment.
The problem is, many cops don’t want to be inconvenienced by such technicalities. Especially on that weekend when the Miami Beach Police Department paid more than a million dollars in overtime to keep officers on the streets, including bringing in many officers from outside jurisdictions.
As you can see from my video, it was a festive yet a non-violent weekend.
The Miami Beach Police Department was contacted for this article and asked to provide some statistics, but they were still in the process of gathering the information, so that will be part of a future article. Below is what Officer David Socarras wrote in his arrest report.
All I have to say is that the photo shows I did not use a flash nor was he safeguarding any prisoner or bicycle. The man accused of stealing the bike was already in custody. And it must be stressed that one does not need to get “consent” before taking photos of police in public.
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