MIAMI — The soundless video shows a man wearing a protective mask picking up bags and boxes outside a white van when a Miami police officer pulls up.
The officer steps out of his squad car. Words are exchanged. Then the officer handcuffs and detains the man, Dr. Armen Henderson, who was recently featured in a Miami Herald article about volunteers who provide free coronavirus testing for homeless people in downtown Miami.
Dr. Henderson was eventually removed from the handcuffs after his wife, Leyla Hussein, emerged from the couple’s home and showed identification to the officer.
Dr. Henderson was not arrested, but after video of the encounter was shared widely online, Chief Jorge Colina of the Miami Police Department ordered an internal investigation into the matter.
The encounter, in the western Miami neighborhood of Flagami on Friday, comes amid reports of racial profiling during the coronavirus pandemic. The virus is disproportionately infecting and killing African-Americans, some of whom worry that following the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection to cover their faces in public could expose them to harassment from the police.
In a video statement on Saturday, Chief Colina said his department “does not condone or accept profiling of any kind.”
According to Chief Colina, the city had been receiving “a litany of complaints pertaining to illegal dumping” of trash on the streets from residents in Flagami, a boot-shaped neighborhood by the Miami International Airport.
“There is a cargo van that is parked in front of that home where there appears to be trash that is being offloaded,” the chief said of the home security video that shows Dr. Henderson’s encounter with the officer. “That is the genesis of the stop. Now, what happens after that, what’s being discussed, the actions taken, etc., all that needs to be investigated, and it will be investigated.”
Chief Colina did not release the name of the officer, who is a sergeant.
Orlando Rodriguez, a public information officer at the Police Department, declined to release any further details on Tuesday, citing a continuing internal affairs investigation.
Dr. Henderson, 34, practices internal medicine in the University of Miami Health System.
Dr. Henderson said in an interview that he was loading his van with tents to take to homeless people in downtown Miami around 11:30 a.m. on Friday when the officer approached him.
“He asked me if I lived there and if I was littering,” Dr. Henderson recalled on Tuesday.
“And I said, ‘No, this is where the city picks up our bulky trash every week,’ and then I just left it at that,” Dr. Henderson said. He thought the conversation was over and turned around.
He said the officer asked him for identification, which the doctor said he did not have on him at the time and would have to retrieve.
Dr. Henderson turned around to resume his cleanup, he said, and the officer handcuffed him.
“I did not know I was under arrest,” he said.
Dr. Henderson recalled feeling “kind of angry” in the moment. “We see how these things kind of escalate, and all those things are going through my head,” he said. “He was yelling and, to me, it wasn’t worth it.”
He called for his wife, who was inside the house with their 5-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son.
After his wife presented identification, Dr. Henderson said, the officer released him.
Dr. Henderson said he was concerned that the officer approached him without wearing a protective mask.
“He was up in my face without a mask on,” said Dr. Henderson, who added that he could feel the officer’s spit on his face.
The officer did not apologize before leaving, according to Dr. Henderson, who said he filed a complaint with the department’s Civilian Investigative Panel the next day. He said he had not heard from the department.
He said he wanted people to know “that it was wrong, that it was racial profiling, that the police are still acting like it’s business as usual even though it’s a pandemic.”
Florida has confirmed more than 21,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 500 deaths as the virus continues to spread in the state. South Florida, which includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, has had the most cases in the state. Miami-Dade County alone has had more than 7,400 cases.
Last month, Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami disclosed that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, making him one of the first elected officials in the United States to announce that he had contracted the virus. After two weeks of quarantine, he has since tested negative.