Updated Friday, April 10 at 11 a.m.
At least 16 people have been jailed in Miami-Dade County the past few weeks over coronavirus-related curfew violations, despite calls by activists and some public officials to limit the number of people booked into the Miami-Dade jail system during the pandemic.
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“It’s really ironic to book someone into jail for violating a curfew in the name of public safety, when we’re calling to stop people getting booked into jail in the first place, in the name of public safety,” said Zaina Alsous, with the activist group Dream Defenders.
There is no statewide or countywide curfew in effect, but several cities have imposed their own.
According to a review of arrest and jail records, the first incident of someone being charged in Miami-Dade County for violating a coronavirus-related curfew happened in Miami Beach, which prohibits most people from being out of their homes from midnight to 5:00 a.m.
The arrest took place March 30 on Euclid Avenue in South Beach. At about 1:30 a.m., an officer spotted a man and a woman talking on the street, and he asked them to disperse. The officer circled the block and told them again to leave. The man left, but the woman “continued to stand on the sidewalk listening to music,” reads an arrest report. She told the officer that she lived at the building she was in front of, but that she needed someone to open the door for her. The ID she provided to the officer showed that she lived a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue.
The officer stepped out of the police car and arrested the woman for a curfew violation, along with a charge of resisting arrest without violence. She was later booked into a county jail.
About 1 a.m. last Wednesday, a homeless Miami Beach man was seen riding his bike on Indian Creek Drive and 71st Street. As he pulled his bike into an alleyway, an officer put out a call on police radio and “several units began to set up a perimeter of the area,” an officer wrote in an arrest affidavit.
The man was arrested for a curfew violation and for possession of drug paraphernalia — he had a pipe on him. Six Miami Beach officers were on the scene for the arrest, according to the police report, and he was booked into Miami-Dade’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told WLRN on March 23 that police would start arresting people who repeatedly ignored orders for things like staying off the beach.
Miami Beach Police Department spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said that when it comes to curfew enforcement, officers are using discretion in deciding when an arrest is necessary.
"Take the case of the woman playing music in the street, the officer provided two separate warnings for the person to continue on and go home, and she was just not responsive to that,” Rodriguez said. "It’s a tool for our officers. It’s always gonna be a last resort, but if an arrest is necessary, it will be done.”
He points to the relatively low level of arrests that have been made as proof. Three people have been arrested in the city for curfew violations.
Several cities, like Miami, Key Biscayne, Hialeah, Coral Gables, Miami Gardens and Sweetwater have mandatory curfews in effect. But only a small number of them have made any arrests.
One North Miami man was arrested twice. The first time was for both loitering and a curfew violation on April 3. A few days later, he was arrested on a charge of grand theft, coupled with another curfew violation.
Several other residents across the county have been booked under trespassing charges, in addition to the misdemeanor curfew violation.
Eight of the arrests have come out of Homestead, which has a curfew of 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
At about 11:00 p.m. last Sunday, a 59-year-old woman was seen walking on Krome Avenue. An officer stopped her and called for another unit to serve as a translator. The woman “became uncooperative and belligerent,” an officer wrote in an arrest affidavit. She said she was walking to Hialeah and that the police couldn’t stop her.
She was arrested and brought to the Homestead Police Department, and later booked into Turner Guilford Knight jail for a curfew violation. She was released from jail just a few hours later, without a bond, records show.
At 3:00 a.m. Wednesday, a man was arrested while walking down Krome Avenue. He had hidden behind a building when he saw a police car. Violating the curfew was his only charge. He was brought to the Homestead Police Department, and wasn’t booked in a county jail.
Five curfew-violation arrests in Homestead did not have some kind of secondary violation, making the city the only place in the county that is arresting people for curfew violations alone, according to records. Only one of the arrests in the city happened somewhere other than Krome Avenue, a main thoroughfare.
Homestead Police Department spokesperson Fernando Morales said the majority of the people who have been arrested were given prior warnings.
"You have to understand that this is unprecedented," said Morales. "The last time we had a curfew was during Hurricane Andrew." The city was ground zero for that storm, which flattened broad swaths of South Dade.
The arrests are happening amid efforts to limit the number of people booked into the county jail system during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"The most important condition to prevent the spread of coronavirus is social distancing," Meena Jagannath, a co-founder of the legal group, Community Justice Project, said Thursday at a news conference. "But this is nearly impossible in a jail setting, where people are held in cells that hold over 60 people that sleep in close quarters on bunk beds."
Overall, however, jail bookings have gone down since the COVID-19 outbreak started.
On March 12, days after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, the daily jail population in Miami-Dade peaked at 3,915 inmates, according to Miami-Dade Corrections. Since then the number has been creeping downward, largely due to a reduction of arrests. As of Wednesday, there were 3,366 inmates in custody.