Miami-Dade County

Miami Gardens’ top cop is stepping aside

The top police officer in Miami Gardens is leaving the force, paving the way for new leadership at a department that found itself in a harsh spotlight in recent months.

Deputy Chief Paul Miller is the second top-ranked officer to retire since late last year, following former Chief Matthew Boyd, who stepped down late in 2013.

“Paul has served the city of Miami Gardens dutifully for six years, and we appreciate his service,’’ Mayor Oliver Gilbert said Wednesday. “We wish him well in retirement.’’

A search is underway for a new police chief to oversee the 221-member force in the city of 110,000, which formed its own department in 2007. City Manager Cameron Benson hopes to have a new chief identified by the time Miller leaves in mid-April. Miller has been serving as interim chief.

Late last year, the Herald and other news media reported on the the extraordinary number of arrests the department made in and around a local convenience store, the 207 Quickstop.

The owner of the store, Alex Saleh, installed a set of video cameras two years ago because, he said, he became increasingly troubled by how officers were treating his customers and employees. With the new battery of cameras in place, he recorded multiple instances of police stopping, frisking and arresting people outside his store. Videos also show officers entering the store and arresting a man Saleh says is one of his employees.

The man is Earl Sampson, 28, who has been stopped more than 400 times in the past five years by Miami Gardens police and arrested more than 100 times, mostly for trespassing.

A lawsuit was filed by Saleh and others alleging that officers were directed to enforce an “illegal system of quotas” requiring them to execute an enormous number of citations, field contact reports and arrests as part of a “zero tolerance” policy.

Boyd said the store, at 3185 NW 207th St.. has been identified as a nuisance by neighbors and that officers are doing proactive policing that helps curb street crime.

Tapes show Sampson twice being taken away by police amid stocking coolers or taking out the garbage. City officials say there was a judicial order barring him from the store. Saleh insists the order isn’t valid because Sampson had his permission to be there.

Both the city and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, which reviewed Saleh’s complaint, concluded there was no evidence that officers had broken the law. The state attorney’s close-out memo questioned whether Sampson worked at the store, and Gilbert said loiterers pretend to work there to avoid arrest.

Miller’s personnel file shows that Boyd had been grooming him to take over upon his retirement. Before being hired in 2006, Miller had served 21 years with the Miami-Dade Police Department, having served as a lieutenant in the homicide and public corruption bureaus.