Why More Than 300 People Have Been Arrested At This One Miami Intersection

Sep 18, 2014

A WLRN-Miami Herald investigation examined more than 500 court records from Miami-Dade County from the last 5 years.

More than 300 people have been arrested for trespassing around an intersection at Northwest 17th Street and the tracks.

The Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) police exist, in part, to handle crimes like train robbery and terrorism, but our investigation shows that 93 percent of their arrests are for trespassing.

And most of the time, those arrests are made around that one Overtown intersection, in a low-income neighborhood where walking is often an essential form of transportation.

“Is it technically a violation of the law? Yeah, technically it’s a violation,” says Teresa Enriquez, a chief assistant public defender in Miami-Dade County.

Our investigation found that 90 percent of these cases were either dismissed or the prosecution was unwilling to pursue the case, but the arrests remain on people’s records.

“When you have people who are arrested for merely crossing train tracks what it does is that it criminalizes poor people and homeless people who are just trying to make their way through the community,” Enriquez says.

She says at best, these arrests are an inconvenience and, at worst, can mark someone for life. The FEC declined to comment on any of its police operations.

CROSSING SAFELY

The FEC has said in the past that trespassing is a safety concern. In Miami-Dade County, four trespassers were killed on FEC tracks in 2011 and 2012, the most recent data available.

Nelson Berrios worked as a Florida East Coast Railway Police officer for 15 years and is now with the Lantana Police Department in Palm Beach County.

“You know we’ve gone to scenes, horrific scenes, where peoples lives have been lost,” Berrios says. “You know we’ve seen everything from young children getting killed to the elderly and you know, trains just can't stop.”

Trains can take more than a mile to stop. Berrios says it’s the public’s responsibility to steer clear and arresting people is one tool FEC police have to keep people off the tracks.

At the Overtown intersection where Edduard Prince was arrested, trains only pass through a couple times of week.

“If there were trains running up and down here, people wouldn’t cross over with their strollers and their children and their babies, you know, because we have more common sense than that,” Prince says.

The City of Miami has talked with the Florida East Coast Railway about putting in an official crosswalk there, but nothing has come of it so far.

But in a matter of years, this whole scene might change. Tracks for All Aboard Florida, FEC’s commuter train, are set to be built right next to the tracks that cut across 17th Street. The plan is to run those trains 16 times each day, in both directions.

ARREST MAP

This map shows all 492 arrests made in Miami-Dade County by the Florida East Coast Railway Police Department from 2009 through the first six months of 2014.  The size of the bubble indicates the number of arrests made at each location. As you can see, most of those arrests were made at or within a block of the stretch of FEC track at Northwest 17th Street. 

This is part of an investigation by WLRN-Miami Herald News and the Miami Herald.