A Miami police sergeant violated multiple policies when he handcuffed a Black doctor in front of his Flagami home earlier this year during an investigation into illegal dumping in the neighborhood, according to a civilian panel tasked with police oversight.
Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, an appointed board that passes its findings to the city’s police chief, determined that Sgt. Mario Menegazzo was discourteous to Dr. Armen Henderson during their early April encounter and that three of the sergeant’s actions — including not wearing a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic — amounted to improper procedure.
The board also faulted Menegazzo for improperly handcuffing Henderson, for not notifying dispatch during the confrontation and for pointing a finger in the doctor’s face after he had been handcuffed and was leaning against the sergeant’s patrol car.
An earlier internal affairs investigation of the encounter reached largely similar conclusions except finding that the officer was justified in taking Henderson into custody.
The CIP board didn’t agree.
“It didn’t seem the cuffing was justified in any way,” said board member Minca Brantley.
During a Tuesday evening Zoom hearing, which was attended by Henderson, the doctor said he believed he had been profiled.
“I said I put trash here every Wednesday to be picked up. My van has been parked in the same place for the last year-and-a-half. The neighbors know me. It was daytime,” Henderson told the board. “If I was white or Hispanic-looking, he wouldn’t have even stopped. What part made him put me in cuffs?”
Menegazzo, who didn’t attend the hearing, said in an earlier statement to detectives in internal affairs that Henderson was stopped because the sergeant believed he was illegally dumping, not because of the color of his skin. Illegal dumping is a large issue in the neighborhood, Menegazzo said.
Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, created by referendum in 2001, has limited power. If its investigation sustains complaints against an officer, the case is referred to the city police chief for potential discipline. As a result of the department’s own probe, Menegazzo already has received a written reprimand in his personnel file.
In this instance, the panel was reviewing an April 10 interaction between Menegazzo and Henderson outside the doctor’s home that was captured on the doctor’s surveillance video system and later downloaded to YouTube. In the video, Henderson, whose efforts at stopping the spread of COVID-19 among Miami’s homeless population were featured in the Miami Herald, is seen unloading items from a white van in front of his home when the sergeant passes by in his patrol vehicle.
When the officer turns his vehicle around and heads back towards Henderson, the doctor walks up to the sergeant’s car and some words are exchanged. There is no audio in the video. As Henderson takes a few steps walking away, Menegazzo moves quickly toward him, handcuffs and seems to berate him, before Henderson’s wife comes out of their home and shows identification.
Henderson is then released. He was never charged with a crime. The video shows the doctor remained calm during the entire exchange. It also shows only a white plastic bag and a broom on the ground next to the doctor’s white truck, its back doors open.
Said Henderson: “I had every reason to be outraged that I was being arrested in front of my house. This is a problem officer. I was not hurt because I kept my composure.”