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Miami Beach cop fired in gay bashing case to get his job back

Miami Beach tourist Harold Strickland.
Miami Beach tourist Harold Strickland.

A Miami Beach police officer fired last year for his role in an alleged gay bashing case is getting his job back.

Eliut Hazzi was one of two officers accused of beating a handcuffed gay man in South Beach’s Flamingo Park in 2009 and then arresting a witness. He was fired last year during a tumultuous summer for the department, but fought to get his badge back and won a case Tuesday before an independent arbitrator.

“He’s very eager to get back to work and put this all behind him,” said police union president Sgt. Alejandro Bello, who spoke to Hazzi last night.

Hazzi and Officer Frankly Forte came under scrutiny after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the officers and the city in 2010 on behalf of a California tourist who said the plain-clothes officers wrongly arrested him almost a year earlier.

The incident began about 1 a.m. on March 13, 2009 as Harold Strickland, a former Beach resident visiting from Los Angeles, walked past Flamingo Park near 14th Street and Michigan Avenue. He called 911 when he said he saw a man being beaten by two men just outside the park.

“I saw a guy running and then I saw two, what looked like undercover cops running. And they pushed this guy down on the ground, the one cop did, and the other cop came up as if he was kicking a football — and kicked the guy in the head,” Strickland said during a recorded phone conversation.

For nearly five minutes, he talked to a dispatcher. Then Forte and Hazzi approached and could be heard saying, “What are you doing here? Where do you live? Let’s see some ID.” A few seconds later the line went dead.

Strickland said the officers kicked him and yelled anti-gay epithets at him before placing him in a van and arresting him.

Hazzi and Forte wrote in their police reports that Strickland and the man they first arrested, Oscar Daniel Mendoza, were trying to break into cars outside the park. Strickland said he was walking across South Beach to look at his old home and on the phone with his sister, who corroborated his account.

Mendoza said he was searching for his dog’s collar.

Both men were charged with loitering and prowling, but all charges were dropped. Strickland eventually won a $75,000 settlement from the city.

Prosecutors said there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges against Hazzi and Forte. But police brass and senior city officials fired the officers last summer, saying an internal affairs investigation showed overwhelming proof that the men abused their positions and falsified police reports.

The union, on the other hand, argued that the officers were fired because of pressure from the gay community and political fallout from an officer’s drunken July 3 ATV crash on South Beach., with a bachelorette in tow.

“Hazzi was offered up by the City powers in a political sacrifice to appease the gay community,” union attorney Eugene Gibbons wrote in a brief filed in the case.

Arbitrator M. Scott Malinowski didn’t agree in his ruling that Hazzi was a scapegoat. But he ruled that the city did not have the evidence it needed to fire Hazzi, who should be reinstated as an officer and back pay, including possible overtime wages lost and pensionable credit.

Forte has also appealed his firing, and his hearing date has not been set.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Police Chief Raymond Martinez said he hadn’t yet seen the ruling and was meeting with the City Attorney’s Office to discuss the case.

“He did prevail and will be getting his job back. But it’s kind of hard to comment right now,” Martinez said.