A Florida man is taking legal action to compel the city to release a video of an incident that went viral on social media involving several Homestead police officers.
Local resident and community activist Dr. James Eric McDonough, who operates the Facebook page, True Homestead, filed the lawsuit on April 25, 2022, requesting bodycam footage of an incident, among other items like the 911 call recordings and radio transmissions, between the law enforcement officers who handled the ordeal on January 15, 2022.
McDonough also accuses the City of Homestead of excessive billing and exaggerating the amount of time it takes to produce the videos he requested, which resulted in overcharging him to the tune of $527.54 for the labor costs to produce four hours of video footage.
"However, deductive logic dictates that there cannot be 4 hours of footage between several officers that were present for an incident lasting less than 10 minutes," he writes in his lawsuit.
Body-worn cameras presumably captured the incident that involved several Homestead police officers when it originally happened back in January.
But the Homestead Police Department is not giving up the footage.
Not without a legal fight, at least.
If it wasn't for Esteban Schmidt's home security camera, the public would be unaware of the incident.
But thanks to Schmidt's home security camera, the incident came to light on April 14, 2022, after Dale Hiller, who runs the YouTube Channel LackLuster, published video footage of the incident to his channel. Footage of the original footage has been edited with Hiller narrating how he had also submitted records requests for body camera footage. However, Hiller's requests were later denied after the department public information officer Fernando Morales cited "inaccurate information" in the records request.
On April 15th, the Homestead Police Department issued a press release detailing both the incident that led up to the police arriving as well as their reasoning for denying records request.
Pursuant to this incident, a YouTube video was brought to the attention of the Homestead Police Department along with Public Records Request of the incident. The initial public records request (attached to the post) requested an incident involving Steven Schmidt. A search for a Steven Schmidt yielded no results which was conveyed to the requester. A subsequent request was submitted by the requester which contained the YouTube video and the address. A search was then conducted with the new information provided for a Steven Schmidt at the address and yielded no results. It is important to understand, the Records department will search for records as requested, therefore it is extremely important to provide accurate information as assumptions cannot be made by our records clerks to avoid releasing information erroneously, and/or providing information regarding an unrelated case
"The discrepancy turned out to be Hiller requesting the video with all the correct information other than the name, which he filled out as "Steven."
"I submit hundreds of records requests each year. And this one goes above and beyond what I provide most departments," Hiller narrates in the video showing police attempting to interrogate Schmidt.
However, it's apparent from listening to the video that the department simply doesn't want the body-worn camera footage released.
In the video, you can even hear Esteban's wife refer to him as "Steven."
Footage of the burglary shows a man with skinny legs, which does not match up with Schmidt, who is a larger man with bigger-looking legs.
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The video sparked a wave of public outcry with many taking to the City of Homestead's Facebook page to express their dissatisfaction about city employees covering up apparent civil rights abuses by Homestead police officers.
How it Began
It all started after a car was reportedly broken into and the victim reported a cell phone missing. Police say the cell phone was pinging in Esteban's neighborhood.
That's when, at approximately 1:00 p.m. on January 15, police showed up at Schmidt's home, knocking on the door.
At that point, not knowing why police were knocking on his door, Schmidt decides to invoke his right to remain silent.
"Shut up," Homestead's police officer Shavar Simmons barks.
The incident continues for a few minutes until the officers finally leave.
Later, the victim of the armed burglary, which was also caught on video, receives a phone call from someone wanting to return a lost phone.
The victim then called the Homestead police and informed them that someone wanted to return the phone at a public place.
The victim arrived with police to meet Schmidt. And he explained that his father-in-law found the phone laying near a sidewalk in his neighborhood.
The victim was able to retrieve their phone, but the firearm that was stolen from the vehicle has not yet been recovered.
"As soon as I said I wasn’t going to answer any questions, the officer said, 'Bingo,' like ‘we’ve got it.' You know, we live in a country where you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. And I think he did exactly the opposite," Schmidt told Local 10.
Homestead Police Department Historically Opposed Body Cams
For several years, Homestead police, including officer Morales, the officer seen in the video below, has previously lobbied Homestead City Council opposing body cameras. In 2016, Morales addressed the Homestead City Council, speaking in opposition to the city buying body-worn cameras for all of its officers.
Morales is also the Head of Internal Affairs at the Homestead Police Department, and can be heard in LackLuster's video refusing to provide public records.
The Homestead Police Department, which also fought against requiring and implementing body cameras, has seen the video and claims it is now conducting an internal review, according to Local 10
Read the entire lawsuit below.