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Miami suburb sued for aggressive police tactics, racial profiling

MIAMI (Reuters) - The mayor and police department of a predominantly black Miami suburb have been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit over allegations of aggressive police tactics, including stop-and-frisk searches and arbitrary arrests, targeting African Americans.

The lawsuit against the city of Miami Gardens, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court, alleges a long history of police abuse and racial profiling in the crime-plagued suburb on the northern outskirts of Miami.

The 11 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are led by Ali Amin Saleh, a Latin American man of Middle Eastern descent who is identified as having been the owner since 1999 of a convenience store in Miami Gardens that was subjected to frequent police searches.

"Over the course of approximately five years, spanning from 2008 to 2013, Mr. Saleh's Quick Stop was unlawfully searched without reasonable suspicion or arguable probable cause, numerous times by MGPD (Miami Gardens Police Department) officers," the complaint says.

"In addition, MGPD officers have engaged in a policy, practice and/or custom of stopping-and-frisking, searching, seizing, and arresting patrons of his Quick Stop while they are on the premises for loitering or trespassing," it added.

Miami Gardens, a city of 105,000 residents that sits on the northwest edge of Miami, is 80 percent black, and was home to Trayvon Martin, the teenager shot dead near Orlando in 2012 by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense.

The complaint said the arrests and searches at the convenience store came despite repeated protests from Saleh, who told police the "suspects" targeted on his property had his full permission and authority to be there.

The complaint seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages for what it describes as "deliberate, wanton, malicious, reckless, and oppressive" police tactics in the city.

It adds that the tactics had spawned numerous rights abuses since 2008, when police adopted a policy offering benefits and promotions for officers who met strict monthly quotas for the number of arrests and citations they issued.

Saleh's business suffered severely as sales fell and customers began shunning the store as a result of the police tactics, the complaint says.

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III, lead defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately return phone calls or an email from Reuters seeking comment.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit is identified as Earl Sampson, 28, an African-American and employee of the Quick Stop who was repeatedly stopped once a week for four years, or about 288 times, the suit says.

On numerous occasions, it said Sampson had been arrested for trespassing while at work stocking the shelves or taking out the trash at the Quick Stop store.

The case is Earl Sampson et al v. City of Miami Gardens et al, U.S. District Court Souther District of Florida, No. 1:13-CV-24312-DLG

(Reporting by Tom Brown and David Adams; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Lisa Shumaker)

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