LGBTQ South Florida

After someone grabbed and punched a woman, cops mistakenly detained famous drag queen

Tiffany Fantasia, left, and Erol Garret Bland.
Tiffany Fantasia, left, and Erol Garret Bland.

Tiffany Fantasia was wearing dark purple eyebrows, bright white eye shadow and her lips were poutingly purple as she got out of her blue Honda CRV near her South Beach home Monday afternoon. In one hand she held a McDonald’s bag. In the other, her car keys and a cellphone.

That didn’t exactly fit the description of the man Miami Beach police said had beaten up a woman and whom they were searching for in the popular drag queen’s neighborhood near Flamingo Park. They claimed the suspect had a knife.

But Fantasia’s physical features and gray shirt and blue jeans were a match, and that was enough for officers to briefly detain and handcuff her until they were satisfied that Fantasia wasn’t the suspect. After about five minutes, they let her go.

“He fit the physical description and clothing description of a subject with knife who had just committed a crime nearby. Sgt. [Orlando] Sosa further explained that for his safety and the safety of the officers he was being momentarily handcuffed,” a Miami Beach police officer wrote in the incident report.

Livid, Fantasia went live on Facebook in her apartment shortly after her detention. For 15 minutes she explained how police didn’t rough her up — mentally or physically — but left her humiliated in front of her neighbors after the encounter.

“My dad went through this sh--. I’m going through this sh--. I didn’t do sh-- wrong,” she told 806 viewers. “It’s so f’ing aggravated, so annoying. All you’re trying to do is be a good person and the sad part is this isn’t the first time this has happened to me.”

Fantasia, whose real name is Henry Williams and who described herself in an interview with the Huffington Post last year as “a big ole ball of energy,” is a popular South Beach drag queen who has been entertaining people at the Palace Bar for over a decade. She greets people at the entrance, wears extravagant “over-the-top” costumes and is fond of 1970s disco.

Tiffany Fantasia, left, was detained and handcuffed by Miami Beach police early Tuesday morning as they searched for a man in her neighborhood who was threatening people with a knife. Police eventually let her go. The suspect was later captured. STEVE ROTHAUS Miami Herald Staff

Last year she taped a pilot for an HBO television show, and she has served as the emcee for gay pride parades in Miami Beach and Curacao for the past half-decade. The 36-year-old is a graduate of Sunset High School and attended Miami Dade College. Both her parents were teachers.

Her encounter with police happened Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at about 6 p.m. She said she had just finished a shift at the Palace just off 10th Street on Ocean Drive and was headed to another gig when she encountered police outside her apartment on Euclid Avenue near Española Way. The six-foot, four-inch, 230-pound drag queen said she was wearing a dark gray T-shirt with the Palace logo, a black jacket and blue jeans.

That fit the basic description of Erol Garret Bland, 37, whom police arrested a short time after detaining Fantasia. Bland, who is also six feet, four inches tall and weighs about 200 pounds, is accused of accosting a woman in a store on South Beach, following her, punching her and threatening her with a knife. He was charged with criminal mischief and battery.

Erol Garret Bland in June 2017 after an arrest on possession of drug paraphernalia charges. Miami-Dade Corrections

According to police, Bland followed a woman to 14th Street and Pennsylvania Court, not far from Fantasia’s home near Flamingo Park on Euclid Avenue, grabbed her shirt collar, hair, then pushed her to the ground and punched her in the chest. Police said the woman was on the phone with 911 when Bland grabbed the phone and threw it into the bushes.

There is no mention of a knife in Bland’s arrest affidavit. In a separate incident report, police claim the woman who was attacked by Bland said the offender dropped a knife as he was punching her.

Fantasia isn’t named in either police report, though there is a mention in the incident report of a black male being detained and handcuffed because he “fit the physical description” of the suspect. Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said that reference is Fantasia.

Fantasia, who had a 2 p.m. meeting Tuesday with Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates, said she had just got out of her car and taken four or five steps when an officer told her to “Drop everything, show me your ID.” She said police told her the suspect was wearing a gray shirt and blue jeans, the same clothing Fantasia was wearing.

She admits to catching some “attitude” when an officer “told me to listen with my ears, and not my mouth.” Reached Tuesday, Fantasia said she’s still upset and had been crying.

“I was in between two gigs,” she said. “We just did a MLK [Martin Luther King] brunch. I had just got home. I had my makeup on my face.”

After the meeting with Oates, Fantasia posted a picture on her Facebook page and thanked the chief for taking the time to explain what happened. .

“He and his team heard me as a citizen and as an African American male,” Fantasia wrote.