Coral Gables

Coral Gables sues Facebook and Instagram for information on the city’s critics

Coral Gables police respond to a crime scene.
Coral Gables police respond to a crime scene. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Someone posted a video of a girl being beaten and stomped as three security guards watch, suggesting that it happened in Coral Gables.

It didn’t, and now the city has taken legal action to find how who’s behind the posts.

“It upset me when I saw it that someone … is trying to defame the city,” said Commissioner Frank Quesada. “It’s meant to deceive, it’s meant to scare.”

Coral Gables is in the midst of a longstanding debate over the high number of vacancies in its police department. The hiring process and training take so long that the city has hired security guards to patrol certain neighborhoods, but they are not trained as law enforcement officers and do not carry firearms.

In May, groups called Protect Coral Gables and “Coral Gables residents who care” posted a video on Facebook and Instagram that shows one girl attacking another, knocking her to the ground, then kicking her and stomping on her head. Three men in vests marked “security” watch but don’t intervene.

The posts said “$610,000 tax dollars wasted on security guards in Coral Gables” and described the video saying that the “security guards can only watch as a girl is beaten.”

“Don’t let this happen in Coral Gables. Call your elected officials and tell them to step up to the plate and protect our families. Demand that they hire certified police officers.”

The incident in the video actually happened in Seattle seven years ago.

The city has filed a lawsuit petitioning Facebook and Instagram to provide information on the groups, an action that was first reported by the Miami New Times.

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A screen grab of a video posted by “Coral Gables residents who care” to criticize the city’s decision to hire security guards in parts of the city. Coral Gables has gone to court to ask Facebook and Instagram for information on the page.

The Protect Coral Gables group used the city’s logo on its Facebook and Instagram posts, and the other group features a picture of the Venetian Pool. On May 26, the city attorney’s office sent cease and desist letters to Facebook and Instagram. The posts were removed.

City Attorney Craig Leen said the city still wants to know who is behind the posts.

“They’re free to put any statement they want to make but what they can’t do is put a video of a terrible incident that did not happen in Coral Gables and make it seem like it happened in Coral Gables,” Leen said.

Criticism of the police department and a lack of urgency in filling vacancies has gone on for several years and was also a major topic in the city’s April elections.

The decision to bring in security guards was primarily a response to a string of car break-ins and home invasions in the North Gables area in 2016.

As of July, the department had about 10 vacancies for full-time officers which is down from about 16 vacancies earlier this year. City leaders have said that the hiring process is lengthy and candidates have to be thoroughly vetted before joining the force.

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Coral Gables City Hall Lance Dixon ldixon@miamiherald.com

John Baublitz, president of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police, said that the union wasn’t responsible for the posts and isn’t familiar with the groups.

“I do stand by the citizens that have been vocal that we need to be fully staffed and I am going to work with the city and those citizens groups to make sure it happens,” Baublitz said. “I’m not a big believer in anonymous posts.”

He said that he’s not supportive of security guards patrolling neighborhoods but recognizes that the city’s working to recruit more full-time applicants.

Both social media companies have until Sept. 5 to respond to the city’s request.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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