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Florida police chief steps down after civil rights lawsuit

By Tom Brown

MIAMI (Reuters) - An embattled Florida police chief has stepped down after he and more than 75 officers under his command were accused in a federal lawsuit of misconduct and civil rights abuse in a predominantly black Miami suburb.

Matthew Boyd, chief of the Miami Gardens Police Department, has "resigned effective immediately," the city's mayor, Oliver Gilbert, said in a statement on Thursday.

Boyd's deputy, Paul Miller, was named acting police chief after Boyd resigned on Wednesday.

Gilbert, who was among the defendants named in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Miami two weeks ago, did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Boyd's departure.

But he had already moved to put some distance between himself and Boyd after the civil rights complaint against Miami Gardens came to light on November 29.

The suit alleges that Boyd implemented an aggressive "zero-tolerance" crime-reduction program on his watch that typically targeted young black men for harassment and abuse.

"No one at the city has an interest in protecting law enforcement officers that act in violation of the very laws that they have sworn to uphold," Gilbert said last week.

Boyd's departure was described by his secretary at the Miami Gardens Police Department as part of a previously announced plan to retire in January. He is the only police chief Miami Gardens has had since it was incorporated in 2003 and formed its own police department four years later.

Boyd, who is African-American, served 24 years with the Miami-Dade Police Department before retiring with the rank of major.

He could not be reached for immediate comment on his departure, but it came just two days after the Florida chapter of the NAACP asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate what it described as "a pattern of grave misconduct" involving officers in the Miami Gardens Police Department.

Citing what it called "a severe crisis" in the crime-plagued suburb of more than 105,000 residents at the northwest edge of Miami, the NAACP said the police had made "hundreds of apprehensions of employees and customers of convenience stores for 'trespassing'" in Miami Gardens.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the NAACP writes that video surveillance from one of the stores documents numerous cases of police harassment of African-Americans, in which officers can be seen questioning, frisking and arresting people who ... had full permission to be on the property where they were confronted.

"This is a good first step ... but hardly the last step," Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference, said in a statement on Thursday. She welcomed Boyd's resignation but said more reforms were needed in the Miami Gardens police.

"The systematic allegations of police intimidation did not happen because of just one person; they were the result of a sustained lack of oversight. We hope that the Miami Gardens Police Department will continue to work with the community on a fairer and more just system."

Boyd is a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit, as are Miller and 76 officers who served under them. The number of defendants is astounding, considering that the Miami Gardens Police Department only has about 200 active officers.

One of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit is identified as Earl Sampson, 28, an African-American employee of a Quick Stop convenience store who the lawsuit says had been stopped by police 288 times, or about once every week for four years.

On numerous occasions, the suit said Sampson was arrested for trespassing while taking out the trash or stocking shelves at the Quick Stop store where he worked.

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

(Reporting by Tom Brown; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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