SARASOTA, Fla (WFLA) – The Sarasota Police Department is involved in another controversy involving a member of the homeless population. The city has already been ranked by an advocacy organization as “the meanest city in America” for its treatment of homeless people. Now, Chief Bernadette DiPino is battling a public relations nightmare.
Officer Andrew Halpin is seen on surveillance video from July 18 throwing peanuts to a homeless man who is handcuffed. The incident occurred at the Sarasota County Jail. Halpin appears to be taunting the inmate, Randy Miller.
In the video, Miller sits on a bench with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Halpin allegedly laughs at him and commands him to open his mouth and catch the peanuts. The officer appears to congratulate himself when Miller catches the snack in his mouth. At one point, Miller crawls on the ground, eating 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 law enforcement members watched.
Chief DiPino was not aware of the incident until the video was released to the media Monday. Upon seeing the video, DiPino told News Channel 8, “I’m disappointed in what I saw in this video … Due to the actions I’ve seen on camera, I immediately initiated an internal affairs investigation.” The chief declined News Channel 8’s request for an on-camera interview because the internal affairs investigation is active.
Meanwhile, the ACLU is calling for Halpin’s firing. Michael Barfield, the vice president of the ACLU of Florida, described the treatment of the inmate in the video as “humiliating.” “I was disgusted, disappointed, then started thinking about why do we always have these incidents in Sarasota,” he said.
Barfield said Halpin has had disciplinary problems with the department. “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,” Barfield said.”
“No one should ever be treated like this,” Barfield said. “This has to stop.”
The ACLU plans to have separate meetings with both the police chief and Miller. 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. Miller was arrested in this case for trespassing at a local convenience store while drunk, records show. “He was drunk and harassing my customers, asking them for money. I had to call the police,” the store’s clerk told News Channel 8.