SARASOTA, FL. (WFLA) – The Sarasota Police Department is involved in yet another controversy involving a member of the homeless population.
The city is already ranked nationally as “the meanest city in America” toward the homeless, according to a national advocacy organization. Now, Chief Bernadette DiPino is battling a public relations nightmare once again. This time, it involves a member of her agency since 2006, Officer Andrew Halpin. Surveillance video from the during jail July 18 incident shows the officer during the booking process of a homeless man. Officer Halpin appears to be taunting the inmate, Randy Miller, at the Sarasota County Jail where the city houses prisoners.
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The officer is seen throwing peanuts at Miller’s mouth, as the man sits on a bench while handcuffed behind his back. Officer Halpin is also seen teasing the man, laughing at him and commanding him to open wide and catch the snack. When Miller does not catch the peanut, he cranes his neck to see where it landed. This happens over and over again. The officer also appears to congratulate himself when the man catches the snack in his mouth. The cop stands back and leans against a counter, watching the inmate. At one point, Miller crawls on the ground to eat the peanuts he missed off the floor. Sources also say the 44-year-old homeless man was given dog commands by the officer, as other deputies watched .
Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino was not aware of the incident, nor was the jail, until the video was released to the media on Monday.
Upon seeing the video, the chief told WFLA-TV, “I’m disappointed in what I saw in this video,” said Chief Bernadette DiPino. “Due to the actions I’ve seen on camera, I immediately initiated an internal affairs investigation.”
The chief declined a request for an on-camera interview since the internal affairs investigation is active.
Meanwhile, the ACLU is calling for the officer’s firing. Michael Barfield, the vice-president of the ACLU of Florida, describes the treatment of the inmate in the video as “humiliating.”
He goes on to say, “I was disgusted, disappointed, then started thinking about why do we always have these incidents in Sarasota?”
Barfield claims the officer has had disciplinary problems before with the department, an agency that has been plagued with issues in the past.
“The officer should be fired. We have to send a message that this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated with someone who is expected to render very good judgement because they have a weapon,” said Barfield.
The ACLU plans to have separate meetings with both the chief and Randy Miller soon.
Miller, according to the ACLU, has a history of mental illness and is no stranger to law enforcement in Sarasota. Records show he has a long rap sheet, including charges of trespassing. The subject of Miller’s arrest in this case was trespassing at a local convenience store at 1702 North Washington in Sarasota while drunk, records show.
In fact, WFLA-TV stopped by the food mart to speak with the clerk, who said, “He was drunk and harassing my customers, asking them for money. I had to call the police.”
“No one should ever be treated like this,” said Barfield. “This has to stop.”
A Sarasota police officer is under investigation after video surfaced of him throwing food to a homeless man. The homeless man appears to be handcuffed. Officer Andrew Halpin has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Police said the homeless man, Randy Miller, had been taken to the Sarasota County Jail. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office gave the Sarasota Police Department the video on Monday.
“I’m disappointed in what I saw in this video,” Chief Bernadette DiPino said in a press release. “Due to the actions I’ve seen on camera, I immediately initiated an internal affairs investigation.”
Halpin has been a Sarasota officer since November 2006. He has a history of disciplinary problems, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. His past problems involve interactions with homeless people and insubordination within the department.
An ACLU spokesman called the video “disgusting.”
“In no way is this acceptable. This man was treated like a circus animal. It was humiliating for him. In addition, the department has specific rules about giving any food to inmates,” said Michael Barfiled, of the ACLU. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.”
Barfiled said he plans to talk with the police chief and Miller. Miller has a history of non-violent offenses in Sarasota. He fell on hard times, according to sources, and lost his job. Sources said he has a history of mental illness, which goes untreated.
One homeless woman, who denied a request for an on-camera interview, told WFLA-TV, “This is nothing new to us. The police department doesn’t treat the homeless very well. We were not shocked they treated Randy like this.”