Former federal agent files lawsuits over alleged false arrests

Susan Khoury, attorney claim arrests stem from her recording videos in public

By Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - A South Florida woman has taken legal action after officers forcibly took her into custody on two separate occasions, all stemming from a neighborhood parking dispute.

Susan Khoury claims officers violated her civil rights by detaining her for recording video and photos in public. 

Video obtained exclusively by Local 10 News shows the first incident from January 2015. Cellphone video shows Khoury recording Officer Gregory Williams of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department when he turns and asks her, "Why are you filming me?" before walking toward her and putting her hands behind her back. 

The video showed Khoury shouting and repeatedly asking Williams what he was doing. 

"I was just trying to tell him I was just getting his tag," Khoury said.

The confrontation stemmed from a years-long parking dispute between neighbors like Khoury and patrons of a young baseball league which used the fields at Glades Middle School in southwest Miami-Dade County. 

"Our original issue was just get them off the sidewalks and off our properties," Khoury said. 

For years residents protested baseball families parking illegally on their sidewalks and lawns, blocking driveways and littering their properties with trash despite an available parking lot on school property. 

"When you tell them, when you say, 'You can't leave your car (there),' (they would say), 'Oh, I'll be right back,'" Khoury said. 

More than 60 neighbors signed a letter to the Miami-Dade County school board about the issue in 2013 but eventually got a reply saying there was no problem. Khoury began documenting the problem herself, taking photos and videos, causing tension with many baseball families.

"I became the face of this whole situation," she said. "I became the target."

She said the incident in 2015 was her first run-in with the law. It was another baseball parent who called police, complaining Khoury was taking photos. 

"I think this really stems from people not understanding that she has a constitutional right to film in public," Khoury's attorney, Hilton Napoleon II, said. 

"He grabbed my left arm and swung it behind me," Khoury said of Williams during the encounter. "I could hear a popping sound."

Video shows Khoury yelling on the ground after she said Williams dislocated her elbow. The officer is joined by another man, who she later learned was an off-duty Homestead police officer. At no point does anyone tell her why they are detaining her. 

"I said to him, 'What are you arresting me for?'" Khoury said. "He says, 'Oh, we're not arresting you. We're Baker Acting you."

After two nights in two different hospitals, Khoury said, she was final able to see a doctor for an evaluation. She said they found no reason for her to be there and released her. 

"There's no due process when you're Baker Acted," she said. "You're sort of at their mercy." 

Khoury, a former federal law enforcement agent herself, filed a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade County school board and Williams for violating her civil rights. 

After Khoury's detention, the school district sent a letter to the Glades Baseball and Softball League instructing them to park only in the designated school lot. But tensions continued, and last June it happened again. 

Body camera video shows a Miami-Dade police officer responding to a call about Khoury. In the recording, the officer stated she was familiar with Khoury. 

"Why are you here taking pictures?" Officer C. Manning asked Khoury in the body camera video. "I'm asking you for your name." 

Khoury responds with her name and asks the officer why she is yelling. Moments later, two officers put Khoury facedown on the sidewalk and handcuffed her wrists behind her back. 

Khoury is heard repeatedly asking what she did wrong. Officers repeatedly tell her to stop resisting, which Khoury denies doing. 

"A police officer has no right or basis within the law to arrest somebody for filming," Napoleon said. "You don't even have the right to tell someone to stop and come over here because they're filming."

The officer arrested Khoury for disorderly conduct and resisting without violence. Both charges were dropped when the state attorney's office declined to prosecute. 

"In both of these situations, you can clearly see from the video evidence there was a serious abuse of power," Napoleon said. 

Khoury ultimately decided to sell her home and recently moved from the neighborhood. She said the ordeal cost her financially as well as emotionally. 

"Law enforcement is supposed to be there to protect you and to serve the community," she said. "They're in a position of trust." 

She said she has been working to advocate for an independent civilian police review board, as well as raise concerns about the lack of due process when it comes to the Baker Act. 

Her lawsuit against the school district is ongoing. A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County Public Schools told Local 10 News the district does not comment on pending litigation. The district did not provide any information on whether it had taken any action regarding the officer involved. 

Khoury's attorney sent the county a letter notifying them of their intent to sue related to the most recent arrest. Khoury also filed an internal affairs complaint against the Miami-Dade police officer involved in that arrest last June. Police told Local 10 News they cannot provide any information because that investigation is open and pending. 

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