ACLU Sues Miami-Dade Police for Shooting Driver, Beating Passengers After Traffic Stop

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 7, 2005 12:00 am

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MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter today filed a lawsuit on behalf of a driver who was shot in the chest and then severely beaten by Miami-Dade police officers after a traffic stop for an expired license plate. Two of the passengers in the car who were also beaten by police are suing the county as well.

“”This was a police ambush of innocent people,”” said ACLU cooperating attorney Greg Samms. “”Without identifying themselves, Miami-Dade police shot at a moving vehicle in total disregard for the public’s safety – all in attempt to pull someone over for a traffic violation.””

Filed today in federal district court, the lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of Theodore Dukes, Lynn Smith and Brian Scruggs. All three were beaten by police in 2001 near the intersection of NW 62nd Street and 7th Avenue in Liberty City, during what should have been a routine traffic stop for a license violation.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed against Miami-Dade County police officers and former Police Chief – now Miami-Dade Mayor – Carlos Alvarez. The ACLU argues in its complaint that Alvarez and other top ranking county police officials condoned the excessive use of force and failed to properly train undercover officers on how to identify themselves and handle routine traffic stops when driving unmarked cars.

The plaintiffs charge that three plainclothes police officers driving unmarked cars attempted to pull over Dukes’ car. Without identifying themselves first, they surrounded Dukes’ car in an attempt to “”box”” him in, leading Dukes to believe he was being carjacked, according to legal papers filed today. As Dukes and his two passengers, Smith and Scruggs, tried to flee in the car, one of the officers drew his gun and shot Dukes through the passenger side window, hitting him in the chest. He managed to break free from the officers and drive to the nearest hospital, all while bleeding profusely.

Only then, the ACLU said, did Dukes notice the flashing blue lights on the unmarked cars. Immediately after seeing the lights, Dukes and his two passengers pulled over on Northwest Seventh Avenue between NW 61st and 62nd Streets and got out of the car. All three people had their hands raised. Dukes was slammed to the floor, then kicked and beaten in front of about a dozen witnesses standing near the Mop City Barber Shop. Scruggs was repeatedly beaten with the butt of a police officer’s gun, and Smith was slammed to the ground with so much force she lost control of her bladder. When one of the outraged bystanders approached police to try to stop the beating, he was arrested for interfering with police procedures.

“”They saw that I was bleeding and they still punched me in the chest, where they knew I had been shot,”” said Dukes, 39, who was in the hospital for 17 days, three of them in a coma. “”They wanted to take my life away from me.””

“”The last thing I remember one of the cops saying to the paramedics was: ‘Don’t rush him to the hospital; take it nice and slow with him,”” added Dukes, who is married with three children.

Today’s lawsuit comes at a time when there is already concern over the excessive use of force by police, especially in Miami-Dade’s poor, black neighborhoods where there is a great deal of mistrust of law enforcement.

“”This case demonstrates why people in the black community are so fearful of the officers who are sworn to protect them,”” added Samms.

The ACLU alleges in its lawsuit that Miami-Dade police officers violated the civil rights of Dukes, Scruggs and Smith under the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable and excessive force by police.

The case is Theodore Dukes et al. v. Miami-Dade County et al . In addition to Samms, the plaintiffs are also represented by ACLU’s South Florida Staff Counsel Rosalind Matos of the ACLU of Florida, Inc.

The complaint is available online at: http://www.aclufl.org/issues/police_practices/dukesfinal.pdf

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