A woman who told police she was held inside a Miami club against her will, and that there were up to a dozen others still inside, set off a five-hour standoff Monday afternoon in which streets were cordoned off, schools were placed on lockdown and snipers readied on rooftops.
In the end, no weapons were found, there were no hostages and police said only three people were ever inside Joseph’s Restaurant in Little Havana. Police continued to interview the trio into Monday evening about possible restaurant violations, police said.
“Nobody was ever held against their will,” said Miami Police Cmdr. Freddie Cruz. “But based on the info we got, it’s better for us to go high and be ready.”
By early evening no one had been charged with a crime.
The incident that caused police to close off parts of Little Havana began at about 1 p.m. Monday when police said a man outside the bar/restaurant at 1971 NW Seventh St. had his cellphone stolen. He ran into the club to call 911 and told police he was ordered to leave.
A few minutes later, police said, a woman came out of the 24-hour club and said she had been held inside against her will and that before escaping she saw about a dozen others inside who were not being allowed to leave.
That sparked Miami police into action. They blocked off parts of Northwest Seventh Street and Northwest 19th Avenue, entered the club and spoke to managers while snipers set up on rooftops nearby. Two local elementary schools were briefly placed on lockdown.
The scene finally broke down at 6 p.m., five hours after the man’s cellphone was stolen. Police, who early on referred to the scene as a “hostage situation,” said at no time did they believe anyone was being held at gunpoint or threatened with any type of weapon.
Early on, Miami police spokesman Michael Vega said of the dozen people believed to be held inside the restaurant, “They’re being held against their will.”
Police said they spent most of the afternoon interviewing the people inside to see if the establishment met all legal requirements and that breaking down the scene was delayed as officers waited to gain entry to a separate part of the building.
The club, which changes names frequently and resides in a hardscrabble section of Little Havana, is no stranger to headlines.
Four years ago, a man named Jesus Hernandez was stabbed and killed there during a short brawl with a security guard. According to court records and police documents, it was in early 2014 when Miguel Herrera Gueverra was sitting at the bar at Joseph’s and Hernandez began pacing around agitated.
Surveillance video caught Hernandez pushing and slapping a woman before Gueverra got up to protect her. After Gueverra punched Hernandez, Gueverra produced a knife. That’s when Hernandez broke a beer bottle and went after the security guard, who stabbed Hernandez twice during the scuffle, killing him.
Miami Herald Staff Writer David J. Neal contributed to this report.