Officers handcuffed Tiffany Fantasia — wearing makeup in male clothing — because she matched a description of a wanted perp
By Jose Cassola
“I was just put in handcuffs!” Henry Williams — better known for his drag persona Tiffany Fantasia — screamed to his followers on a Facebook live video Monday evening, as he recounted the story of how he had just been stopped by Miami Beach police and placed in handcuffs because he matched the description of a black male of interest in possession of a knife.
The incident happened at the intersection of Española Way and Euclid Avenue in front of Williams’ apartment building on Martin Luther King Day, a holiday celebrating the life of the slain civil rights leader who stood for racial equality and human rights for all.
Williams said he parked his car around the corner of his apartment building, in between drag gigs. He had just left Palace Bar on Ocean Drive and was on his way to Hotel Gaythering on Lincoln Road, where he hosts Karaoke Mondays, when he went home to change out of his “boy clothes,” his face still “painted.”
Tiffany Fantasia, born Henry Williams, out of drag. (Photo courtesy of Henry Williams’ Facebook page)
Williams stepped out of the car with a McDonald’s bag in one hand and a cell phone and keys in the other. Then, police came out of nowhere, asking Williams for his picture ID, eventually placing him in handcuffs.
“No positive description, no height, no weight. Just a black man with a grey shirt and blue jeans. Fucking ridiculous,” an emotionally-charged Williams said on Facebook live. “Then they wonder why we [African American males] feel the way we do towards the police department… because we all go through this shit! My dad went through this shit, I’m going through this shit. Many African American males go through this shit and get treated like shit in the process.”
Williams went on to say that “it’s so fucking aggravating, so annoying when all you’re trying to do is be a good person. And the sad part is that this isn’t the first time this ever happens to me. It’s always a vague ass description from the police department…no where near what you look like but you’re a suspect! Because of the color of your fucking skin. Don’t make any fucking sense.”
Henry Williams as his drag alter ego, Tiffany Fantasia. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Fantasia)
Williams said he was eventually let go when officers realized they had the wrong man. The real culprit, according to an incident report, was a black male fitting Williams’ description who had threatened a white female at a store on 14th Street and Washington Avenue, then followed her to 14th Street and Pennsylvania Court and attacked her, punching her in the chest. The victim then flagged down a police officer at the corner of 14th Place and Euclid Avenue and reported the attack.
Officers detained Williams at the 700 block of Española Way because he fit the physical description and clothing description of the culprit. According to the report, Williams was momentarily handcuffed “for his safety and the safety of the officers.” When the victim was transported to the scene where Williams was being detained, she confirmed he was not her attacker. Williams was immediately un-handcuffed and released, but not before an officer on the scene told him to pick up his trash (the McDonald’s bag), or else he’d be cited for littering.
Shortly thereafter, the real subject was apprehended and taken into custody. Williams was none too pleased with the treatment or lack of an apology from the officers.
“I have never been so disgusted with Miami Beach Police Department. The way they handled the situation was horrible,” Williams said in a separate Facebook post Monday evening. “They handcuffed me out of nowhere while walking down my own block with a McDonald’s bag, cell phone and keys saying that I matched the description of somebody with a knife. And then when I asked why [they were] handcuffing me, they’re telling me to be quiet and listen with my ears…. I did nothing wrong! Obviously, from a mile away, you could tell I wasn’t the person!!! And some of you wonder why black people have a problem with y’all.”
Williams’ newsfeed was filled with supportive comments. Fellow drag entertainer and DJ Power Infiniti said: “This right here is WHY WE DON’T SEE NO FUCKING COPS!! So they gon’ stop my sister, put this child in handcuffs, GIVE FLIP LIP and RUDENESS, only to find out THEY GOT THE WRONG ‘NIGGER!!’ Yes, I said ‘NIGGER’ cause ‘NIGGERS’ are what we all are to THEM…The corrupt, inept, racist ass, crooked, INCOMPETENT, stuck-on-stupid, DUMB AS FUCK POLICE!
Fuck em! Sorry, Tiffany T. Fantasia, that you had to go through this ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT!!!!”
As upset as Williams was after the incident, he still changed into his drag clothes to host the karaoke night at Hotel Gaythering. “Yes, I did. The show must go on. I was taught that at as a young entertainer,” he said.
Williams said what he would like from this situation is that “the police start to use common sense when detaining people over vague descriptions and 911 operators get better descriptions of bad people. So that situations like this won’t happen again.”
Williams, in drag as Tiffany Fantasia, performs at Señor Frog’s on Sundays. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Fantasia’s Facebook page)
On Tuesday, Williams thanked everyone on his Facebook “for all the love and support in this situation.”
“Several leaders have reached out to me and I will be meeting with the chief of police today,” Williams said. “My hope is better understanding of how to deal with this type of situation so that a person doesn’t feel dehumanized when they have done nothing wrong.”
After Williams met with Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates Tuesday afternoon, he posted the outcome of the meeting on his Facebook page, along with a group picture with Oates and fellow officers.
“Growth comes from understanding both sides of the coin. Thank you, Police Chief Daniel Oates, for explaining what was going on that night, hearing me and my side of the story and trying to come up with a solution to the problem,” Williams said. “He and his team heard me as a citizen and as an African American male. I hope this can lead to a better understanding and growth.”
Ernesto Rodriguez, Public Information Officer for the Miami Beach Police Department, provided Miami Gay News and South Florida Gay News the following statement via email:
“Chief Oates, Deputy Chief Clements, Major Guerrero and I met with Mr. Williams this afternoon. This was a private conversation where we all openly discussed our concerns and the incident. We feel the meeting was very positive and Chief Oates reassured Mr. Williams that he and the Miami Beach PD is always available should he have any questions or concerns, we even took a group photo at the end.”
Williams’ followers were happy he had come to a positive resolution.
Kath Singial wrote: “That’s amazing! You had two options after your experience. You could be angry and bitter and do nothing about it or you could discuss it, understand the whole situation and try to make a change. More people should follow your lead. And, while you have every right to be angry, you handled it constructively. You Rock!”
David L. Johnson wrote: “That’s great that less than 24 hours later you were able to meet with the chief of police. The picture says it all. Great accomplishment!”
Carlos Junquera wrote: “That’s awesome. While my heart aches at the thought of what you experienced, I’m happy and proud of how you turned a negative into a positive! We all need to continue to grow, learn and love one another as a human race.”
Appolonia Cruz wrote: [I’m] happy there was closure but this must #NEVER happen again in our South Beach hometown!!”
Williams met with Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates Tuesday afternoon, posting the positive outcome of the meeting on his Facebook page, along with a group picture with Oates and fellow officers. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Fantasia’s Facebook page)