July 12, 2020
Department upholds Miami sergeant’s cuffing of UM doctor, but cites other infractions
By Devon Cetoute

Miami Police have found that the treatment of a University of Miami doctor, who was detained outside of his home in early April, was justified. Although, the police department says the sergeant who put the doctor in cuffs messed up in other ways.

Dr. Armen Henderson, who was highlighted in a Miami Herald story for helping the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, made headlines again and was at the center of public outcry when he was detained outside of his home by a Miami police sergeant for allegedly dumping illegally.

Surveillance video of the incident shows Henderson taking items out of his van when a Miami police officer pulls up next to him. After a discussion, which cannot be heard on the video, the officer handcuffs Henderson. Miami police announced its investigation into the incident on April 11.

An internal police memo sent on May 4, showed that based on Henderson’s statements and other evidence, four allegations were made against Sgt. Mario Menegazzo, the officer who detained Henderson.

Miami police internal affairs investigated Menegazzo for improper procedure for placing Henderson in handcuffs without cause; discourtesy for yelling at Henderson and pointing in his face; improper procedure for failing to wear a protective face mask during the pandemic; and improper procedure again for failing to alert dispatch that he had conducted an investigative stop. 

Police say because Henderson and his wife, Leila Hussein, refused to give a statement to Internal Affairs, the allegations against Menegazzo were investigated using Henderson’s original citizen complaint made on April 10 and several interviews and video footage Henderson released to various media outlets.

Henderson was not immediately available for comment.

Menegazzo told internal affairs that he saw Henderson throwing boxes on the street and confronted him because of reports of illegal dumping in the area. Menegazzo described Henderson as getting increasingly agitated as the sergeant tried to confirm that Henderson lived there.

“Sergeant Menegazzo raised his voice in order to gain control of the situation and detained Dr Henderson by placing him in handcuffs for further investigation,” the memo read.

After getting confirmation of Henderson’s address from his wife, Hussein, Menegazzo released Henderson and explained to him the entire situation could have been resolved if he had just provided his information, the memo said.

The internal affairs memo also touched on Henderson, who is black, telling several media outlets he was racially profiled by Menegazzo. 

When IA spoke to Menegazzo he said “that he did not stop Dr. Henderson because he was black, and further advised that if Dr. Henderson had been white or Hispanic, he would have acted in the same manner.”

IA did not find a pattern of targeting the black community after analyzing the officer’s traffic stops and crisis responses from Oct. 10 to April 10, the memo said.

Miami police internal affairs concluded Menegazzo’s actions were justified. 

“As a sworn police officer, Sergeant Menegazzo had the right to detain Dr. Henderson until his reasonable suspicion that Dr. Henderson was dumping illegally was dispelled.” 

The investigation did conclude that the other three allegations against Menegazzo — yelling at Henderson, not wearing a face mask and not calling dispatch — were valid and that he violated departmental policies. 

Contacted on Friday, Miami police said they could not immediately provide information on whether Menegazzo will face discipline. 

The Miami New Times obtained records from Menegazzo’s disciplinary file that showed he has been investigated before. Since 2012, he has had eight citizen complaints filed against him and been investigated for 13 use-of-force incidents.

Menegazzo has been accused of being discourteous and of improper procedure. 

In 2014, Yesenia Alvarez accused Menegazzo of ordering her husband out of the car and telling him to “shut up” during a traffic stop where he issued her several traffic citations, including for allegedly cutting Menegazzo off and for child safety-belt violations. The Citizen Investigative Panel could not determine if Menegazzo acted improperly. 

In 2015, Menegazzo confronted Jorge Sanchez while he was pumping gas because Menegazzo heard he’d been spreading rumors about him. Menegazzo patted him down and told him to “cool it.” IA sustained a charge of improper procedure for breaking departmental rules about gossip.