Racially-Charged Videos Lead to ‘Biking While Black' Allegations

Controversial videos re-posted in social media got a Miami police officer in trouble after defense attorneys unveiled the racially-charged materials during a trial in federal court. The videos contained the use of the N-word as well as profanity and references to sexual activity.

In addition to presenting the videos in court, defense attorneys accused Officer Corey Couto, 24, and his employer Miami Police Department of racial profiling, claiming the officer received marching orders from his superiors to be on the lookout for men “biking while black” in the Overtown area where he patrols at night. Couto and the police department have strongly denied the allegations.

"This department expressly prohibits raced-based profiling," said Major Delrish Moss with the Miami Police Department.

The case started with the February 2015 arrest of 29-year-old Domenick Jagne. Couto had initially stopped Jagne because he did not have a mounted bike light, according to court records. But after a short chase, the officer found a gun in a wheel well of a parked SUV near where Jagne had been. Jagne faced federal weapons charges.

Jagne’s lawyers said during the trial the videos Couto re-posted in Twitter and Vine revealed “the officer’s racial animus and thus, his bias against African-Americans.”

“I don’t believe that’s the case,” Moss said. “I think that the public defender has the job to do just that - do what you need to do to defend your client."

NBC 6 Investigators obtained the videos Couto re-posted on his social media accounts. The short videos Couto re-posted on Twitter and Vine accounts are sexually and racially explicit, making offensive remarks about African-Americans.

“Some of it used the ‘N’ word and in some case it was people who were African-Americans using the ‘N’ word in videos,” Moss said. “The appearance is that he shared a lot of these videos because they were funny, not so much because they were racially insensitive.”

The police department investigated what came up in court and gave Couto a letter of reprimand for violating the department’s social media policy. Couto agreed to delete his social media accounts. He told the court he’s not a racist and that he’s ashamed he re-posted the material.

Both federal prosecutors and public defenders wouldn’t comment on the case, leaving court documents to show what took place during court proceedings. In court documents, Jagne’s defense attorneys claimed Couto was making a race-based - and not a traffic - stop and arrest.

Couto testified in court that Jagne’s race had nothing to do with his actions. He testified he stopped Jagne because his bike "didn’t have a headlight."

But defense attorneys presented evidence in court showing how Couto stopped three black men – one walking and two riding bikes – including Jagne during the first 90 minutes of his shift that night.

"Chances are if I am going to stop someone there, more than likely, they are just going to happen to be African-American. It’s not that they are targeting them because they are African-American,” Moss said.

Jagne’s attorneys argued in court that Couto wasn’t acting on his own. They claimed the Miami Police Department’s supervisors had instructed Couto to target African-American men because “Overtown was experiencing a spike in crime."

In court records, Jagne's attorneys alleged that a police sergeant instructed the officers "to be on the lookout for criminals with the following 'MO': the criminals are black males on bicycles."

Moss denies the accusations.

"The sergeant at roll call said ‘you guys may want to be a little extra careful. You may want to watch just a little bit more guys using bicycles to commit crime,'" Moss said. “That wasn’t going out and saying ‘hey go stop guys on bicycles…don’t stop black guys on bicycles.’ Is not a case of driving or biking while black, but this was more a case of – this has been happening and making you aware of it."

Domenick Jagne faced a judge again Wednesday to be sentenced for the weapons charge. The federal judge who presided over the case voiced his disappointment about the allegations that came out during court hearings.

"In 25 years, this is the first case where race was an obvious and prominent issue and it has no place in a U.S. courtroom," Federal Judge Donald Graham said in court. “The case had racial overtones that have no place in our justice system. It's a sad commentary on the judicial system and law enforcement.”

The judge continued by emphasizing that most law enforcement officers are “excellent public servants” but hopes in this case that the Miami Police Department is taking “appropriate action.”

Jagne is heading to prison. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison for the weapons charge. Prosecutors had asked for 36 months.

Miami Police say overall Couto is a good officer. He continues to patrol Overtown.

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