Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

North Miami manager to head Miami Gardens Police Department

A new chief has been named to take over the Miami Gardens Police Department, which has been beset by accusations of civil rights violations and racial profiling.

Stephen Johnson, North Miami’s city manager and former police chief, was offered the Miami Gardens post on Monday, officials from both cities confirmed.

Johnson, a 30-year veteran of North Miami, intends to retire from that job to accept the position in Miami Gardens, leading a 221-member force. That city has has been without a permanent police chief since December, when Matthew Boyd resigned.

Boyd and Deputy Chief Paul Miller both left the force shortly after the owner of 207 Quickstop, a convenience store, alleged in a lawsuit that police officers harassed his employees and customers, repeatedly busting them for petty or trumped-up charges.

To buttress his allegations, the store owner presented videos captured by cameras posted inside and outside the store. In the videos, officers are seen arresting one employee as he stocked a cooler, tossing a man’s bag of Red Bull energy drinks onto the pavement and kicking them around, and ordering a woman to empty her pockets, after which an officer threw the possessions onto the ground.

The officers’ actions spurred claims of racial profiling, since those confronted by police were black. Mayor Oliver Gilbert said the supposed profiling was, in reality, a reflection of the city’s racial makeup.

Miami Gardens is the largest black-majority city in Florida.

Miller became interim chief when Boyd bowed out, only to announce his retirement in February. He will end his tenure Friday.

Miami Gardens’ City Manager Cameron Benson said that Johnson was one of five finalists for the position from a pool of 50 to 70 applicants. Benson said that Johnson’s experience as city manager and his success in building police and community relationships in North Miami made him stand out above the other applicants.

“He was always somebody we were considering. I believe he will assist in moving the city in a positive direction,” Benson said. “I believe he’ll be a positive addition for the city of Miami Gardens.”

Benson said the city may have to designate an interim chief while waiting for Johnson to make the transition. He anticipates Johnson starting with the force at the end of April or in early May.

“I’m looking forward to going and addressing their issues,” Johnson said. “I want to bring my knowledge as a police chief and city manager.”

The timing may depend on North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau and the rest of the City Council, according to Councilman Scott Galvin.

“Could we walk into the meeting tomorrow and Lucie says ‘go home now’? Maybe,” Galvin said.

Johnson began working for the North Miami Police Department in 1984 and became chief in August 2010.

In August 2011, he was appointed interim city manager, and that November he was given the permanent job. Johnson announced his decision at a Monday morning staff meeting, according to city spokeswoman Pam Solomon.

“He used that as the forum to inform everyone,” Solomon said.

Galvin said Johnson’s decision did not surprise him.

“Steve told me months ago that he might retire,” Galvin said.

North Miami is now without permanent people in two of its top positions. Police Chief Marc Elias resigned in February.