SARASOTA – As he was being booked into the Sarasota County jail, an officer tossed peanuts into Randy Miller’s mouth as if feeding a dog or an animal at the zoo.
Miller, intoxicated and handcuffed, was unable to catch them with his mouth. Several fell to the ground.
Minutes later, Miller slumped out of his chair and began eating the peanuts off the booking room floor. Sarasota Police Officer Andrew Halpin, who had thrown the nuts at Miller’s mouth, kicked them with his boot toward Miller so he could better reach them on the floor.
A source familiar with Miller’s July 18 arrest says Halpin was giving the homeless man “dog commands” during the incident.
The Herald-Tribune obtained a copy of the booking video Monday through a public records request, after learning of what happened to Miller.
Neither the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office nor the Sarasota Police Department were aware of Halpin’s actions until contacted by the newspaper on Monday.
Police Chief Bernadette DiPino watched the booking video Monday morning, and suspended her officer immediately.
“Based on the actions in the video, I immediately initiated an internal investigation on Officer Halpin,” DiPino said. “I’m disappointed in what I observed in the video, and placed the officer on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.”
DiPino declined to address the officer’s work history.
“I can’t discuss anything further,” she said, adding she would comment only after the internal affairs investigation.
In the video, several sheriff’s deputies and a Venice Police officer can be seen watching Halpin’s interaction with Miller, but taking no action to stop it.
The deputies’ role, too, has become the source of an internal affairs investigation.
“Internal Affairs is looking into what involvement our personnel had in the incident,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Wendy Rose said.
Halpin was hired by the Sarasota Police Department in 2006. DiPino’s office did not immediately comply with a request for his disciplinary file.
Miller has an extensive arrest history in Sarasota. Since September, he has been arrested and booked into the county jail 22 times, mostly for trespass, refusing to leave, drinking in public or other petty crimes.
He has remained in the Sarasota County jail since his arrest, unable to make bail.
Michael Barfield, vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said he was shocked but not surprised by the incident involving the Halpin and the deputies.
“It’s this kind of egregious conduct that gets Sarasota labeled as the ‘Meanest City in the USA’ towards the homeless,” Barfield said. “Florida law allows for enhanced penalties when crimes are committed that show prejudice against the homeless. Instead of wrist-slapping officers, Chief DiPino and the State Attorney’s Office need to send a message that this conduct won’t be tolerated.”
According to Miller’s arrest report, Halpin spotted the homeless man at about 10 p.m. on July 18, “sitting on the property at 1702 N. Washington Blvd. near the front door of the business.”
Halpin ran a computer check and learned that Miller had been “trespassed” from the business by another officer in December.
“I placed the defendant under arrest and transported him to the SSO Jail,” Halpin wrote.