MIAMI — Miami police officials are investigating the detainment of a black doctor, who was handcuffed by a patrol sergeant outside his own home as he loaded up supplies to tend to the city’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Armen Henderson, a doctor with the University of Miami Health System, is now concerned over his own health because the unnamed officer, who was not wearing a mask, got “all up in (his) face,” according to ABC News.
Henderson believes he was targeted by the sergeant because he is black.
Miami-Dade Police Chief Jorge Colina said Saturday, the day after the confrontation, that it is being investigated by the department.
“The City of Miami Police Department does not condone or accept profiling of any kind,” the chief said in a video statement.
Colina offered context for the incident, saying that the sergeant was responding to “a litany of complaints pertaining to illegal dumping” in the area where Henderson lives. He said the officer spotted Henderson’s “cargo van,” from which it appeared trash was being offloaded.
“That is the genesis of the stop,” Colina said. “Now, what happens after that, what’s being discussed, the actions taken, etc., all that needs to be investigated. And it will be investigated.”
Watch Chief Jorge Colina’s entire statement below.
Friday’s confrontation in Miami’s Flagami neighborhood took place three days after Colina announced that six of his officers had tested positive for the coronavirus, ABC News reported. Another 125 officers have been quarantined while they await test results.
“Please, stay inside, adhere to social distancing, wear a mask or a cloth face covering and be responsible. We’re here for you. Please do your part for us,” Colina said in a video statement at the time.
Henderson told the news network the sergeant who accosted him apparently had not listened to his chief’s statement.
“He put me at risk,” Henderson said. “Now I feel like I should get tested, honestly. Most likely I will, because he definitely was spitting in my face. I could feel it while he was yelling at me.”
Footage Henderson provided to multiple media outlets shows the 34-year-old internal medicine doctor, who is wearing a surgical face mask, loading supplies into his white van and placing trash on the sidewalk nearby.
Watch Dr. Armen Henderson’s security video of the incident below, courtesy of the Miami Herald.
Inside the van are stacks of what Henderson identified in a Facebook post as tents for the homeless. The blue tents appear to match those seen in Associated Press photos taken a week before as a photographer shadowed Henderson and volunteers feeding homeless people and screening them for COVID-19.
The Miami Herald on March 28 published a profile of Henderson and his volunteers, who defied countywide orders and took to the streets with food, tents and testing kits to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“I feel this is essential to protecting the public’s health,” Henderson told the Herald.
In Friday’s video, as Henderson moves momentarily out of sight around the driver’s side of the van, the officer pulls up in a patrol car and starts talking to him. Henderson approaches the driver’s side of the car and the men speak for several seconds.
The security footage does not include audio.
In his ABC News interview, Henderson said the sergeant accused him of littering.
“He just said, ‘Are you littering over here?’ Do you live here? Do you work here?’ And I was, like, ‘Yes, I live here. This is where we put our bulky trash and the city comes to pick it up every week at this same place," Henderson said.
The footage shows the officer stepping out of the patrol car as a visibly frustrated Henderson walks toward his house, unfastening his mask on one side and allowing it to hang from his right ear.
“I’m like, 'OK, thank you, officer,’” Henderson told ABC News. “And then I turned around to get back to what I was doing.
“I guess he must have thought that I had disrespected him or something like that. He jumped out of the car and started yelling, ‘You call me sergeant when I’m talking to you, and blah, blah, blah. And, you know what, give me your ID.’”
Henderson said he told the officer he did not have his identification on him. That’s when the handcuffs came out.
In the video, the sergeant cuffs Henderson and moves him to stand in front of his patrol car. He can be seen pointing his finger in Henderson’s face and chastising him.
“No mask, all up in my face pointing fingers trying to intimidate me like I was his child,” Henderson wrote on Facebook. “Like it’s business as usual.”
Henderson said he called out to his wife, who was inside the house with their two young children. At that point in the video, she comes out of the house and speaks to the officer.
The sergeant returns to where Henderson stands and removes the handcuffs.
Henderson’s wife comes back outside and hands the officer her husband’s identification. Henderson goes back to what he was doing before he was accosted.
“He didn’t apologize. He just got in his car and drove away,” Henderson told ABC News.
In an interview with WPLG, Henderson said he hopes the outcome of the police investigation would be for officers to “tone down their willingness to accost people on the street” during the pandemic.
“Everybody should wear masks, you should keep your distance between people, especially if you’re not wearing a mask, and you should limit your interaction,” he said. “I’m just taking tents out of my car. Why was that even a reason for you to stop and talk to me in the first place?”
Henderson’s Facebook post about the incident garnered hundreds of responses, from those who know him as well as complete strangers.
“So proud of what you are doing for people, on and off duty,” one woman wrote. “God bless you and your family.”
In his Facebook post, Henderson called out organizations that are leaving the homeless population on the streets, untested and without adequate places to wash their hands and eat, during the national health crisis.
“After I was uncuffed, I went downtown where 200 houseless people are sharing two porta-potties already filled to the brim with feces,” Henderson wrote. "Where people use portable wash stations filled with smelly sewage water. Where the main concern of people was lack of water and food.
“To date, we’ve handed out 100′s of tents, we gave out 100′s of masks. We provided 100′s of meals and bottled water. We have no more than a couple thousand dollars and a few volunteers.”
One commenter called the sergeant’s actions unacceptable and offered help.
“Please let me know if there is somewhere we can donate to your efforts,” she wrote.
“Armen, you don’t know me but just want you to know a lot of us out there are disgusted by the actions of these police and I want to say you are a better man than I for how you handled it,” a man wrote. “Peace, and hopefully justice, to you.”