Apr 242015
Trish Gibson, Assistant Public Defender

Trish Gibson, Assistant Public Defender

by Naja and Arnaud Girard…

The issue of racially selective law enforcement has finally erupted at the highest levels of Monroe County’s criminal justice system. Sheriff Rick Ramsay is “outraged” at the words of Chief Assistant Public Defender Trish Gibson. Data and statistics are flying around.

This is a taste of the problem:

A female voice is heard, very loud: “Illegal search! Illegal search! What they stop the man for?! They stopped him for nothin.” Spread-eagled, in the middle of Emma Street, being recorded by Officer Hall’s dashcam, was Ricky Cartwright screaming in pain while Officer Siracuse was blasting him with his police Taser.

Apparently Cartwright had been riding his bicycle in Bahama Village with a beer in his hand. The open container arrest would yield a trace of cocaine, so minute it could not be measured, less than 20 grams of marijuana, and some cash stuck in a pack of cigarettes. This type of arrest does produce results. Ricky Cartwright was successfully prosecuted and convicted for possession of illegal drugs.

However, many have complained that officers use much more severe and intrusive methods when policing the Black community, mindful of the fact that, east of Whitehead Street, tourists are never stopped and searched for drinking in public.

KWPD has finally admitted that public strip searches are illegal –It did so only after The Blue Paper published videos of young black men with their pants at their ankles, standing in the middle of the street, while officer Siracuse slaps on his infamous latex gloves before getting into “exploration mode.” No one has even suggested that such treatment has ever been imposed on Whites in the community.

Video:  Another of Key West’s Black residents is strip searched [allegedly cavity searched] in public:

At the April 13, 2015 Florida Keys ACLU Annual Meeting, Trish Gibson, a 20-year veteran of the Public Defender’s office, claimed that KWPD sends its confidential informants to Bahama Village, Key West’s Black community, but never to Duval Street where over 2.7 million tourists a year come to party at the bars and strip clubs.

“I do believe there is selective enforcement on where we are getting our arrests for drug cases,” said Gibson, “…I have probably a good 20 drug cases right now and not one of them is Caucasian. Every single one of them is Black.”

But Sheriff Rick Ramsay argues that the caseload of a public defender at any given time isn’t a fair representation of the local criminal justice system. The Sheriff provided data showing that from Jan 1, 2014 to present, 68% of those arrested for drug-related crimes were Whites and only 33% were Black, proving, he said, that KWPD does not have an issue with racial bias in drug crime enforcement.

This claim, however, would have been a hard sell during Cartwright’s arrest. The following comes straight out of Officer Siracuse’s police report:

“Cartwright began yelling as loud as he could and almost immediately a large crowd began forming around us […] Within minutes a crowd of at least 50 bystanders surrounded us. In spite of my order to stay back they kept drawing closer and closer.”

On May 9th of last year, Detectives Siracuse and Wormington believed a menacing crowd besieged them: Wormington called for the Calvary – literally. The first back-up on scene was an officer riding a horse: the one you see during Fantasy Fest. The officers then decided to retreat with their prisoner, one block to the north where they would be more protected.  Quite a circus…

So who’s right? Many Blacks in the Village as well as others in the community believe Blacks in Key West are victims of selective enforcement; A claim that the Sheriff and KWPD officials vehemently deny.

To figure out what is really going on, it is crucial to clarify the numbers. Blue Paper reporters spent days analyzing every drug arrest in Key West since January 2014.

The first problem with Sheriff Ramsay’s numbers is that they show 68% of the drug-related arrests since January 2014 were of Whites and that only 1 person arrested was Hispanic. If one wants to know whether the White majority receives preferential treatment, all the minorities must be identified and set aside. In fact, we found in the raw data that Hispanics made up 13% of the drug arrests for that period, but were for some reason counted as Caucasians. This in turn would mean that only 55% of those arrested on drug-related charges were “White”. The Sheriff’s data showed 33% were Black.

The next issue is that a number of those arrested were tourists. According to 2012 population data Whites made up 68.3% of Key West’s 25,119 permanent population. The tourist population is overwhelmingly White. In 2012, tourists represented an average daily population of 7,435 in Key West. To try to make the numbers more closely match reality, we added another 7000 tourists to the 2012 population of Whites [17156 + 7000] and about 100 to the Black population [2487 + 100]. The adjusted population numbers are approximately 24,156 Whites and 2587 Blacks.

In fact, when factoring in tourists, on an average day, Whites outnumber Blacks in Key West by as much as 9 to 1. Considering the total population of Whites versus Blacks on an average day in Key West and the number of arrests in each group for the given period, we found that Blacks in Key West are 6 times more likely to be arrested on drug-related charges than Whites. *

This certainly backs up Ms. Gibson’s claim of selective enforcement of drug-related crime.

Local criminal defense attorney Julio Margali has long been aware of the racial bias issue here in Key West.

“This is not new,” says Margali, “my office used to be on Petronia Street. I remember looking at the police systematically stopping and frisking black kids — boys really. I got so sick of it I threatened one officer with a lawsuit. And what happened? He came back the next day to slap a parking ticket on my car. My car, I might add, parked inside of my own parking lot.”

More frequent searches of Black residents predictably results in a greater probability of finding drugs and in more arrests. One Bahama Village resident explained: “By the time the police have searched 100 people for drugs, nobody cares if, on the 101st time, they caught a guy with a crack rock. Everybody hates their guts by then, for not letting us have a life.”

While the tourist industry sells Key West as a Paradise, the silent pain and misery wrecking the innocent families of convicted drug offenders is taking its toll. Behind many doors in Bahama Village are children without fathers, mothers working two jobs, young women unable to find a husband. Certainly the drug offenders are chiefly responsible, but the perception that hardship is dispensed unequally upon Black families must add considerable fear and hopelessness — the debate regarding this essential element of Key West’s bad conscience needs to continue to grow.

“We need to a better job at combating our biases. We all have biases. Whether admitted or subconscious,” said Chief Lee during the April 13th ACLU meeting. It was Chief Lee who decided to put a stop to the public strip searches despite the State Attorney’s failure to condemn the unlawful practice. The Chief also created the “pizza with a cop” program in the Village. These are all steps in the right direction, but it is going to take more than pizza to fix it all.



We’re not saying that there is no drug-related crime enforcement when it comes to Whites in Key West, but only that the numbers show that Blacks in Key West are approximately 6 times more likely to be arrested for a drug-related offense than their White brothers and sisters.

Having spent most of our lives in Key West, we have a hard time believing that Whites would be less tangled in illegal drugs then their Black counterparts.

Why does it matter?

Because the perception of justice and fairness is as important as justice itself. Selective enforcement denies the targeted group the right to have faith in equal protection, equal justice. It quickly leads those in the targeted group to believe the deck is stacked against them. It replaces the energy that springs from optimism by the anger born of mistrust and hopelessness. This is why it is important to openly discuss an existing enforcement policy that targets Blacks 6 times more than Whites.


NOTE:  *160 whites arrested on drug related charges Jan 1, 2014 – April 22, 2015: 160 / 24156 = .0066 [0.6 percent of adjusted white population arrested]
94 blacks arrested on drug related charges Jan 1, 2014 to April 22, 2015: 94 / 2587 = .0363 [3.6 percent of adjusted black population arrested]

After reviewing the raw data, we came up with 293 KWPD drug arrests from Jan 1, 2014 thru April 22, 2015. 160 of those were of Whites, 94 were of Blacks, and 38 were of Hispanics and 1 was Asian.  [7 of the Whites arrested on drug charges were Homeless.]  The percentages, without factoring in tourists, were:  54% White, 32% Black, and 13% Hispanic.  [Data was not provided in an EXCEL friendly format – so there is a possibility of some human error in this accounting.]


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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.
 April 24, 2015  Posted by at 3:50 am * Featured Story *, Bahama Village, Issue #111  Add comments

  8 Responses to “Selective Enforcement: Blacks 6X’s More Likely To Be Arrested On Drug Charges”

  1. Does anyone, even Officer Siracuse, even Police Chief Donie Lee, even Mayor Craig Cates, even Sheriff Rick Ramsay, believe Suracuse would have publicly strip-searched that man in broad daylight, in front of a gathered crowd of any color, if he had been white? This incident smacked of KKK. Why, therefore, is Siracuse still on the Key West police force?

    At the ACLU forum, Trish Gibson bluntly said kWPD goes after crack cocaine violations in Bahama Village, but not after “white powder” (cocaine) violations on Duval Street. Cocaine is a popular narcotic there. A far more popular narcotic on Duval is booze. Yep, it’s a narcotic. A drug. But since it drives Key West’s economic engine, and since it’s legal, anyone, white or black or brown or yellow, is free to imbibe booze on Duval Street, and anywhere else in the city, in public, unless anyone is homeless, which, I recall Trish Gibson also said at the ACLU forum.

    About a year and a half ago, I stopped at a bus stop and offered a woman a ride, I was headed to Marathon. She said she, too, was going to Marathon. About 40, attractive, a little worn, she said she was an exotic dancer, had worked in a number of clubs on Duval Street. She told me quite a few stories of her experiences in those clubs, none of which I had any reason to doubt. However, one thing she told me, I will never forget. She said the young KW police officers providing security in those clubs at night, were trafficking in narcotics in those clubs, it was part of their compensation for providing security.

    When I told Naja and Arnaud about that quite a while back, Naja said the woman was a stripper, probably a drug addict, and I believed her? I said, yes, I believed the woman. She seemed honest to me.

    Why would I not believe a stripper I had just happened to meet in such an unexpected way, telling me stories about her experiences in Duval Street clubs, where sex and drugs are rampant, and for sale? The stripper gave me an education only a Duval Street stripper could provide. What? I’d get that education from the club owners? From the cops providing security in those clubs?

    If I want to find out how cops treat blacks in Key West, I ask the cops? I ask Mayor Cates? I ask Police Chief Donie Lee? I ask Sheriff Ramsay? I ask Alyson Crean,who does Key West and KWPD’s public relations? I ask the Key West Chamber of Commerce? I ask the Tourist Development Council? Not me. I ask blacks.

    If I want to find out how the cops treat homeless people, I ask the same luminaries? No, I ask homeless people. And I expect to be asked not to use their names, if I report it at goodmorningkeywest.com. I expect to hear they are afraid of retaliation. And I believe them, their fear is justified.

    Based on conversations I have had with Naja and Arnaud, in which they shared their own experiences with people who told them stuff, but were not willing to be put in public view about it, and based on Naja telling me blacks in Bahama Village are beaten down, have been made subservient, and will not make waves, will not come to city commission meetings and, during closing citizen comments, tell Mayor Cates and the city commissioner and the city manager and the city attorney, and the public in the meeting and watching on live television, what it’s really like between the KW police and blacks in Bahama Village, I don’t see a black rebellion happening in Key West. I see it having to come from whites, and it came, in part, from Trish Gibson at the ACLLU meeting, and she’s sticking to her guns, thankfully.

    At the ACLU meeting, Trish agreed with Naja’s citizen comment, that there is a cadre of KW police officers who are known by the public defender’s office, the state attorney’s office, and the local judges to lie in cases they bring, but Trish did not name those officers. After the meeting concluded, I walked over to Trish and told her she’d had a golden opportunity to do a wonderful thing for her community, name those lying cops, and she didn’t do it. I hope Trish will name those lying cops. If not her, a candidate for the public defender’s job, then who?

  2. Superb. The Girard’s are spot on. Sophisticated and insightful statistical analysis. Absolutely the tourist population must be figured into the numbers of whites and absolutely this decreases the numbers of KW whites getting arrested for the drugs consumed by tourists, thus exposing Black’s massively over representation in drug arrests. We saw this happening in New Orleans: there, we had complicity between real estate interests and city gov to ‘evict’ Blacks from public housing and get the land for real estate speculation. Thank you Girards for doing what I demurred from attempting. Martha

  3. “KWPD has finally admitted that public strip searches are illegal”

    How in the hell can a police chief be that ignorant about the laws. What do they tell us ? Ignorance is no excuse. Why that man has not found a lawyer puzzles me. Key West is about to learn the hard way about hiring unqualified.

  4. FBI also lumps Hispanics into the White column of crime statistics.

  5. Great in depth analysis of the stats on racial disparity in drug arrests in Key West! I am with Sloan and Prof. Huggins in praise of Naja and Arnaud’s tireless efforts to educate and inform the people. Chief Lee’s crack about not wanting to talk/interview with The Blue Paper “because The Blue Paper has an agenda” is lame. In this case “agenda” equals the truth.

  6. Naja & Arnaud,

    The brilliant manner that you approached and described this topic is extraordinary. It flows smoothly with Antidotal Evidence; which I believe contains the gut wrenching abuses and criminal conduct that have been recorded, which appear to be directed at a set group of American citizens.

    All of the evidence that I’ve seen supports the aforementioned statement.

    Statistics are numbers that can be manipulated, skewed, lost, left out, mistaken and miss-identified. The superb investigative research that you’ve secured, which is documented on video and audio, does not need, nor require a (number explanation).

    I admire, respect and sincerely value the courageous statements made by Chief Assistant Public Defender Trish Gibson. She accurately and articulately described the realities of her experience. Her purposeful and relevant revelations provide insight into some of the problematic realties facing our community and nation.

    Based on my assessment, knowledge and experiences with Sheriff Rick Ramsay; I have found him to be absolutely free of any bias, dishonesty and injustice. He epitomizes impartiality, principled conduct and courageous action. Our candid and frank discussions on sensitive topics revel him to be a preeminent and compassionate law-enforcement officer. He is a consummate leader.

    Naja & Arnaud, you’ve identified some of the real issues that have created the rift, distrust and hatred that exists between some police departments and targeted populations.

    I ask for a summit of sort; Trish Gibson, Rick Ramsay, Naja & Arnaud Girard, John Donnelly and any other individual(s) critical to discussing the aforementioned topic. Our nation needs the guidance and direction that would come out of such a gathering.

    Blessings & Respect…

  7. Well of course there is an easy solution to all of this…arrest more white people!

    That way there will be no more talk about the disparity in racial profiling, the cops can keep shuffling people through the court system at the taxpayer expense, the corporations can have more slave labor for their products and the CIA and politicians can keep trafficking their narcotics. It’s a win, win, win, win.

    Or, you can talk about the real problems of prohibition.

  8. If you look for drug activity in Bahama Village then that is where you will find it and because it is mostly blacks then yes it will be the blacks arrested. Maybe start looking at the bars on Duval. Just as many white people using. They want the dealers not the buyers because bigger fine and prison. Makes it look like they did a good job. And they really don;t want to bust tourists because it hurts the dollars. And with the way things are going just maybe some of the confiscated drugs are going back on the streets.