It was five in the afternoon, the end of Jimmy Michel’s work shift at Broward College. His sister was supposed to pick him up across the street. But as he was crossing Davie Road to get to the rendezvous point, Michel was hemmed in by a semi-circle of as many as five police cruisers from the Davie Police Department.
“Put your hands on your head!” ordered one, Officer Stephen Alston, who had drawn his service weapon and was pointing it at Michel.
Thus began an ordeal in which the 31-year-old sound technician was frisked, cuffed, subjected to a roadside lineup and, he says, finally scolded by police for not affording them the proper respect. They were looking for the man who had robbed a woman in the parking lot of the nearby Palm Trace Landings apartment complex.
Michel, a lifelong South Floridian who has no criminal record, says he was told repeatedly he “fit the description” of the robber. To Michel, that meant one thing: “I’m black.”
Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle says officers were operating with a more detailed description, pieced together from the victim and a CVS security guard who saw someone running from the crime scene. That description: black male, mid-20s, jeans, dark shirt, 5-6’ to 5-8, carrying a black backpack.
Michel says he is 6-3 not 5-6, wasn’t carrying a gun when he was stopped, didn’t have any of the stolen items, and was never a threat to anybody. He did have a beard, did carry a backpack (filled, he says, with empty lunch bowls, a tablet, a hard drive, a lamp and pens) and did have on jeans and a dark shirt, although the latter clearly stated he was from Broward College. He was uncuffed and freed after about 45 minutes, Michel says, when witnesses, (presumably the victim and the guard) were driven to the spot but could not ID him.
Afterward, he wrote up his story, thinking it would resonate with others who complain of being subjected to similar indignities. Calling it his “Affidavit of Truth,” he shared it with the Miami Herald under the heading “Walking While Black.” Here are excerpts:
Officer Alston grabbed my hands and began to kick my left leg while saying,” “Spread your feet!”
Now there were three (3) police officers immediately around me that I could see. One on my left, one behind me who I think was Officer Alston, and another on my right.
Officer Alston began frisking me. While frisking he asked, “What’s your name?”
I responded, “Jimmy Michel.”
I said, “I work at Broward College. You can see it on my shirt.”
I asked “What’s going on?’
An officer shouted, “There’s been a robbery!”
Officer Alston then said, “You fit the description!”
I said, “Black.”
The police cruisers’ lights flashed. Rubberneckers — including colleagues leaving work — had a ringside seat to Michel’s humiliation as they whizzed past.
Michel: “I said I’m across the street from my job. This is embarrassing.”
He says they told him again: “You fit the description!”
Michel says he asked the officers repeatedly to look in his book bag, that he could account for its contents. They would not.