News: Wild West Back East

Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez wanted residents to think they had more than enough police officers on the force to deal with crime on the beach, and he cited the FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics to prove it, as if dealing with the seven major crimes on that report is all police officers have to do. But that is not even the half it. There are at least two dozen other crimes such as felony drug and weapons offenses that the police are concerned with, not to mention a myriad of misdemeanors including traffic violations. The city manager repeatedly refused to release statistics or address the frequency for those incidents for fear of scaring tourists away and investing more money in law enforcement.

To make matters worse, in the interest of increasing tourism revenue and reducing enforcement costs, he reportedly instructed the police department to stand down from enforcing minor, quality of life ordinances, a policy that is bound to eventually result in an increase in the major crime index. That policy of toleration and neglect has made South Beach, especially Washington Avenue, a sort of Wild West rife with crimes not on the major crime report, many of them missing the attention of mainstream media.

Residents and merchants outraged by the lawlessness are finally being heeded even though 85% of them have become too cynical to vote. Two city commissioners have made a motion to fire the city manager for his lax management style. And there has been a repeated call, completely ignored by the city manager and the commissioners, to amend the city charter to mandate the election of a police commissioner who would be directly responsible to the electorate instead of the city manager, who is, presently beholden to a part-time commission and weak mayor.

The police department is currently looking for another chief due to the retirement of the present one, and is bending over backwards to please merchants and residents; for example, by putting more flatfeet on Washington Avenue in order to crack down on minor offenses. On New Year’s Day that policy netted an arrest for serious crimes that will not appear on the FBI’s UCR-1 report; a drugs and weapons crime, which was not reported by mainstream media.

“Washington Avenue Beat Officers Lozano and Romero,” stated an MBPD Incident Advisory to merchants and residents, “while on normal walking patrol, approached an improperly parked vehicle with one male occupant in the driver’s seat with all the windows down along the 900 block of Washington Avenue at 4:09 pm. The vehicle had a visible NYPD jacket in the back seat and the subject was wearing a NYPD T-shirt. The officers made contact with the driver and discovered that the occupant was not a police officer. The officers asked the subject if he had any weapons and the subject responded ‘no.’ The subject gave the officers consent to search the interior of the vehicle. As you can see from image 0877, the top stock of a Tec-9, 9mm machine gun was clearly visible and within a arm’s reach of the subject. The subject was arrested. The Tec-9 had a fully loaded magazine. Search incident to arrest, revealed additional police paraphernalia.”

Police Report 2012-293 (the 293rd report on the first day of the new year!) identifies the subject as one James F. Cannata, 49, of Bronx, New York, who was charged with possession of a machine gun (Tec-9), possession of a small bag of marijuana, possession of a submachine gun (Tec-9) and seven counts of possession of ammunition. The ammunition appears to be hollow-point bullets, designed to expand and stay within the target to do more damage, reducing the possibility of through-and-through penetration and therefore collateral damage. The weapon charges fall under Chapters 790.235 and 790.221 of the Florida Statutes. 790.235 prohibits the “possession of firearm or ammunition by violent career criminal…regardless of whether such person is or has previously been sentenced as a violent career criminal….” The weapon may be any kind of weapon or device including a tear gas gun or chemical weapon. The penalty carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. A police department source declined to reveal the man’s criminal record; given the nature of the charges, he must be a convicted felon. Section 790.221 prohibits the “possession of a short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or machine gun,” and carries penalties that vary according to the convicted person’s criminal record.

This is a Tec-9 semi-automatic handgun

The police report is somewhat flawed inasmuch as the weapon seized is not a Tec-9, a semi-automatic handgun once favored by Miami’s Cuban and Jamaican drug gangs and made notorious by such events as the Columbine High School Massacre. A semi-automatic weapon is one that reloads itself and requires repeated pulls of the trigger to fire it. Converted to a fully automatic machine gun, the firing continues as long as the trigger remains pulled. The Tec-9 converted to fully automatic sprays bullets all over the place hence is inaccurate and dangerous to people near the target; in fact the Miami Beach Police Department range master once turned down a gift of several Tec-9s that had been confiscated from drug dealers by the U.S. Marshal’s Office, because the weapon is too dangerous for police use. Intratec, the manufacturer of the Tec-9, has gone out of business.

The gun actually confiscated from Mr. Cannata is a Kel Tec Sub 2000 foldable semi-automatic rifle manufactured by Kel Tec CNC Industries of Cocoa, Florida, a company that happens to be the third-largest handgun maker in the United States. It is popular with police officers in some jurisdictions because their pistol magazines can be used in the rifle, which provides them with greater accuracy at a longer range than a pistol. It is not made as a “submachine” gun, which would be a fully automatic machine gun that uses pistol magazines; we are not aware if this particular gun was converted to fully automatic. Campers and hikers like the Kel Tec Sub 2000 because the carbine can be folded up and put in a backpack, just as Mr. Cannata had his folded up and stuffed in a bag in his car..

All and all, we surmise that Mr. Cannata was posing as a New York cop, to himself at the very least, for to so in Florida would be absurd. We notice that he was not charged with impersonating a police officer—he admitted he was not a cop despite the paraphernalia in his possession, including a NYPD lieutenant’s badge.

We can only imagine what brought him to Florida and South Beach. The fine weather and the reputation of South Beach as a Wild West were undoubtedly factors. Who knows? Maybe he was on vacation from ripping off drug dealers in the Bronx. A police department source discounted the notion that he was hanging around Washington and 9th to rob the Bank of America or the Seven-Eleven. It is even speculated that he a deep-undercover cop. Records online, at the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office, show that he was released on his own recognizance on January 7 even though he is being prosecuted for nine felony counts and one misdemeanor count, and that he has applied for indigent status.

One never knows what imposters are up to until it is too late. Some of them are relatively harmless, wayward youth who are ambitiously overcompensating for an inferiority complex, usually blamed on their fathers. Residents and merchants received this Incident Advisory from MBPD:

“Detective Oliva from the South District CST squad was patrolling the South District in undercover capacity when he observed a white Ford Crown Victoria resembling an unmarked police vehicle driving alongside of him. As Detective Oliva made eye contact with the driver he noticed that the driver was simulating police activity by typing on a laptop computer within the vehicle. Detective Oliva began a conversation with the subject who continued pretending he was a police officer by using police jargon and saying he was a cop here in South Beach. The subject at one point told Detective Oliva to “put your seatbelt on”. Detective Oliva did not recognize the subject as a Miami Beach Police Officer. Fearing the subject would possibly commit a crime involving the impersonation of a law enforcement officer, Detective Oliva decided he would create a story regarding drug activity in the area. After hearing the story, the subject said he would investigate and begin looking for the “suspected” drug dealer. At that time Detective Oliva advised over the police radio that he had a possible police impersonator and requested marked units to assist with a traffic stop. Officer B. Maher responded and together with other SIU Detectives conducted a traffic stop at the above location. Further investigation revealed the subject had in his possession a loaded .380 caliber Ruger pistol under the passenger seat, a Taser X-26, a set of handcuffs, a radio, an Osceola County Police badge and several police T-shirts from the same county. The subject was arrested and transported to MBPD for further investigation. A computer check revealed that the subject was arrested in September 2011 for impersonating a Physician’s Assistant here in Florida which made national news. The subject is still awaiting trial in that case.”

The subject here is Matthew Thomas Scheidt, 18 years of age. He was charged with impersonating a police officer, carrying a concealed firearm, and carrying a concealed weapon. Indeed, his previous impersonation escapade in Central Florida got national press attention for its similarity to the romantic imposter case best known to the public from the movie Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who conned people out of millions before he turned 19 and wound up as a highly regarded F.B.I. consultant, as absurd as that might seem.

The youthful South Beach imposter had previously pretended to be a physician’s assistant at a Central Florida hospital for five days, working in the operating and emergency rooms, examining patients and providing them with care including the application of CPR. The hospital made the usual claim hospitals make after the like events, insisting that all patients got the care they needed. When confronted with his imposition, Mr. Scheidt said he was on a secret mission as a deputy sheriff.

The young man’s conduct was incomprehensible to his dad, who said he did not know whether his boy needed psychological help or not. He should have been “Baker Acted” if he did; i.e. turned over to psychiatrists for examination.

Kids impersonating cops are a dime a dozen. It is relatively easy for them to lay their hands on police officer paraphernalia including guns. Success by any means is inculcated in our young from an early age. They are told they can create themselves, be anyone they want to be, even president of the United States in this great nation of ours. So we should not be surprised if the striving for superiority becomes inordinate in some of them given their circumstances and genetic dispositions. Furthermore, they expect instant gratification and are addicted to adrenaline rushes thanks to the media. Being a cop is presumably exciting and more than compensates for feelings of inferiority. Like Mr. Scheidt’s father, we cannot say if this sort of behavioral phenomenon is due to a psychological disorder or not. Nor have we been able to obtain a definitive statement from a psychiatrist. Some psychologists allude to the imaginative, ambitious behavior as “psychopathic,” as if it were, in updated psychological jargon, “sociopathic,” but that descriptive term does not fully fit the bill. Neither does the so-called imposter syndrome, most often used in reference to females who harbor feelings of inferiority hence feel that the superior personalities they assume are actually phony.

This particular wayward youngster obviously wanted to be an authority and was somehow motivated to skip all the steps needed to become one. He did not appear to be out to con people out of millions. Maybe he planned on advising people to fasten their seatbelts and the like. Or just maybe he would attempt to apprehend gunmen who frequent Washington Avenue and get in a gunfight with one of them. Who knows? If he is deemed sane, perhaps he should be sentenced to take the police academy course and pass the examination, or serve five years in prison.

The case of Mr. Scheidt reminds us of the boy who stole a bus because he wanted to be a bus driver. Mind you that there were several boys doing that in Florida, but 18-year-old James Harris, dubbed a “transit freak” by a Miami-Dade Transit officer, got the most media attention. He acquired a genuine bus driver uniform, swiped a bus and returned it to the barn after his shift, presumably with the fares collected and absent any customer complaints. After being arrested for that run, he used the same uniform to steal another bus from another depot, this time driving it thirty miles away to Florida City. Transit officials tracked the bus down with GPS. The young man fled and was not to be found. Security cameras showed him making out with a man on the bus. Now there was a fellow who knew exactly what he wanted to be, so perhaps he should be sentenced to a bus-driving career.

Another peculiar case of impersonation is that of Rufus Hawkins, aged 24, who was charged with practicing law without a license i.e. impersonating an attorney for several months in an Orlando court. The case was admittedly not that peculiar to the licensing authority, the Florida Bar, for it handles scores of unauthorized practice cases very year. Mr. Hawkins was arrested after a judge noticed that his pleadings were a mess and questioned him about his credentials—a list of licensed lawyers can be viewed on the Florida Bar website. A client objected that she wanted him to continue with her case anyway. He said that he was an “attorney-in-fact,” something that a licensed attorney claimed does not exist although it does: you can give a non-attorney a power of attorney to do something as your attorney-in-fact, but of course he may not act in that capacity as an attorney-at-law. Mr. Hawkins was sentenced to a day in jail, already served, and two years probation. I recommended that he be sentenced to go to law school and pass the bar exam or do two years in jail. He prefers to be a non-lawyer advocate:

“Sadly,” he said in an email, “the bar and the power structure have to continually work to protect the legal system from the non-lawyers and the public, not protect the public from the non-lawyers. They lied about, and, at first, I thought it was all personal; however, after I was welcomed into the family of non-lawyer advocates, I learned, that is just what they do. They had to make up something in an attempt to hype up the public and make them fear me, little did they know, I was more embraced by the public because the majority of the public have been harmed by lawyers and the injustice in the legal system.”

To return to Washington Avenue, where there have been numerous shootings lately including police shootings that killed men who were either armed or pretended to be armed, and where a tourist was beaten to death with bare fists on the sidewalk outside a pool hall while bystanders watched and took a video of the incident: The following January 23 Incident Advisory of a “bank robbery” caused some excitement although the bank has been robbed before and its busy ATM machines are infamous for robbing tourists when the machines are tampered with by crooks.

“This morning at approximately 0915 hours, the Bank of America at 930 Washington Avenue pressed their panic alarm button indicating a bank robbery was in progress. Sector 2 + Sector 3 police officers saturated the area. The subject stated he was armed with a firearm to the bank teller and demanded money. The subject departed the bank prior to our arrival. Bicycle and ATV Officers located and took the subject into custody along the 1100 block of Washington Avenue.”

The subject was 26-year-old Arsenio Jamond Johnson. His mug shot is displayed on a website with others for the admiration of facial tattoos. A detractor on a popular social media site accused him of impersonating a black man, as if he were not black enough; otherwise not much information is available. He was most previously arrested for trespassing in Hillsborough, Florida, where he refused to name his birthplace when arrested. He was released there on $500 bond, some confidential information was received—probably his medical records—and the prosecutor dropped the case.

Arsenio Jamond Johnson

As for his subsequent arrest in Miami Beach for bank robbery, we are advised that he was deemed to be a ‘Baker Act.’ “He will be sent for evaluation and probably not be formally charged with the robbery.” Indeed, he is probably back on the street by now.

The Baker Act legislation provides that mentally ill individuals not be treated as criminals, e.g. restrained like criminals, if they are of no danger to themselves or others. They may be involuntarily committed by law enforcement officers to a receiving facility for psychiatric evaluation but cannot be held for more than 72 hours, at which time “the patient shall be released, unless he or she is charged with a crime, in which case the patient shall be returned to the custody of a law enforcement officer.” On its face, that provision, in Chapter 394 of the Florida Statutes, allows considerable discretion to police officers. An officer on the scene described Mr. Johnson as a “crazy dude.” Considering the facts known at this time, that he walked into the bank in broad daylight and left on foot, and was apprehended less than a minute later, two blocks away on the very street where the police station is located, we may with good reason conclude he is mentally challenged, and make a mental note of the Baker Act in case we do something stupid someday.

On January 20, two days prior to the Bank of America “incident” (it is no longer a “crime”), the FBI arrested one Cedrick Deon Swasey, 31, a convicted felon, for his role in the September 21 robbery of the Wells Fargo Bank branch at 1901 Alton Road in South Beach, a more suitable location for non-Baker Act bank robbers. Mr. Swasey was dressed in fatigues and fired his gun during that robbery. Other suspects and persons of interest are still being sought in the case.

The City of Miami Beach, which the FBI in recent years ranked as the third most dangerous small city in the nation, used to try to protect its South Beach from bad influences, or at least to keep those influences secret so that potential tourists and the celebrities that once drew them to the beach would not be frightened off, as European tourists were after a world-famous fashion designer, Gianni Versace, was murdered on the doorstep of his Ocean Drive home. The advance of civil rights primarily in favor of vagrants and criminals had already been an impediment to keeping the beach safe for the vast majority of people, yet much could still be done to protect the beach from being flooded with miscreants of all sorts, including wealthy criminals from all over the world and its very own corrupt public officials. An elderly gentleman who lives in a million-dollar condo on the beach believes there is still a chance to turn South Beach into a Singapore, by setting up checkpoints to search for drugs, weapons, and wanted persons, and by strict enforcement of local ordinances.

But city officials, eager for more revenue, discovered that a reputation for liberality and tolerance for the city’s crown jewel, South Beach, is not such a bad thing after all, and opened up the gates to the backwash. South Beach is a virtual Wild West Back East, and Washington Avenue is Main Street for the showdowns. It is no wonder that cops seem trigger-happy given the pervasive threat to law and order on the beach. Florida is a gun-loving state to begin with. There are more guns than residents in Miami; try as you may, you cannot take the Miami out of Miami Beach because “this is Miami, bitch.”

Bad news is good news nowadays. The man who died in a hail of police bullets during Urban Week was wanted for shooting a victim in the head during a filling station robbery upstate. This Wild West Back East has few real cowboys, but that is all right. Just send in the clowns. Hip-hop to gangsta’ rap. Impersonate gangsters the best you can, bringing a gun for good measure. The talent scout shot dead by a cop in front of MED Pizza, a block and a half from the police station, because he refused to drop a loaded gun that he was pointing at the cop, had no criminal record. His bodyguard also packed heat.

Who would come to South Beach unarmed if he knew what was really taking place on Washington Avenue? “Yo, man, let’s go to South Beach tonight. Bring your gun.” The night worker at MED Pizza calls the late-night Washington Avenue crowd “The Bullshit People.” A fully armed actor just might pull the trigger to fulfill his role. Watch out, Marshal Dillon, this is the Wild West Back East.

About David Arthur Walters

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