After a lengthy court battle, a jury agreed with a former crime analyst in Miami Gardens that she was fired unjustly after uncovering a string of dubious arrests by police officers trying to meet a quota.
The jury found that race and sex played a part in the firing of Wanda Gilbert and that as a whistleblower, Gilbert should have been provided protections to keep her job after claiming police were making unjust arrests that could have netted them 5 percent yearly raises.
Now Gilbert is set to become a wealthy woman.
The jury awarded Gilbert, a married mother and former 26-year crime analyst in the city of Miami who now lives in Bradenton, $916,423 in back pay. And in the next few weeks a judge is expected to decide if Gilbert will receive more of a financial windfall, from money she would have received had she stayed with Miami Gardens police.
“What they were doing to the citizens was just ridiculous.” she said.
Miami Gardens’ attorneys and mayor did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Gilbert’s lawsuit predated heavily publicized claims of harassment by a Miami Gardens businessman, a series of stories by the Miami Herald and a study by Fusion that showed Miami Gardens police stopped and frisked residents at alarming rates. The attention led to the resignations of the city’s police chief and his top deputy.
The Fusion study in 2014 found that between 2008 and 2013 police stopped, frisked and harassed residents from children to senior citizens more than 99,000 times. Testimony during the trial also focused on 207 Quickstop, a convenience store owned for more than two decades by Alex Saleh, who became so fed up with police antics that he spent tens of thousands of dollars on surveillance equipment.
The video recorded officers stopping and frisking customers and employees for no reason and continually searching Saleh’s premises without a warrant. One man who worked for Saleh named Earl Sampson was stopped 419 times over five years and arrested 62 times, mostly on trespassing charges.
Eventually Police Chief Matthew Boyd, the city’s first chief, resigned. His resignation was followed a few months later by that of his top deputy, Paul Miller. Saleh testified at trail, even producing a video of an officer dumping the belongings of a woman’s purse on the ground, then kicking them and walking off. A pair of Miami Gardens cops spoke on behalf of Gilbert, telling jurors they were ordered to target black males between 15 and 30 years of age. Saleh filed a lawsuit and reached an undisclosed settlement with the city.
The accusations by the former Miami Gardens cops eerily echoed a similar tale in a smaller community to the south named Biscayne Park, in which several cops were recently convicted of framing young black men for a host of home burglaries the chief said he was pressured to solve.
In her lawsuit, Gilbert claimed officers were ordered to meet a quota of arrests each year and if they did they would receive a 5 percent raise. Not long after penning a letter to Police Chief Matthew Boyd about her concerns in 2010, Gilbert was suspended. After a second letter, she was fired.
Gilbert’s seven-year quest at redemption was rewarded by the court on Nov. 6, the day of the midterm elections.
“I stayed with it just for vindication for myself and because I’d been retaliated against. It was a great day,” she said.