Security ramps up for Trump’s Miami court appearance

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — Security promises to be air tight ahead of former President Donald Trump’s expected arraignment at downtown Miami’s federal courthouse Tuesday afternoon — but police and federal agents are being tight-lipped about specifics.

This much is certain: Many of the roads around the Wilkie D. Ferguson U.S. Courthouse will be closed before his arrival to face a string of charges associated with the handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach. And it’s likely to lead to a commuting nightmare throughout downtown.

Other safety measures, as well as the law enforcement presences near the 14-floor glass tower are expected to be asphyxiating.

“The Miami Police Department is ready to ensure the safety of the city,” is all Miami police Chief Manny Morales would say Friday about security issues.

The U.S. Marshal Service, which provides courthouse security and will coordinate with local law enforcement, also would not discuss preparations, but issued a statement: “The U.S. Marshals are responsible for the protection of the federal judicial process, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Ensuring that judges can rule independently and free from harm or intimidation is paramount to the rule of law, and a fundamental mission of the USMS.”

Still, the former president’s pending appearance has Miami bracing for a chaotic day downtown. Businesses and commuters always have to grapple with the intense security and logistical demands when a president visits — but a former president being hauled into criminal federal court will add layers of complexity. The number of reporters outside the courthouse has exploded in the last few days and potential demonstrations could pop up near the courthouse.

Although he announced on social media Thursday that he is being asked to appear in Miami federal court at 3 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, the specifics are unknown, at least publicly. Trump could, for instance, spend the night or morning before his court appearance at his Doral resort or at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach County. Cameras are not allowed in federal court and it’s unclear if he intends to make a statement before or after his appearance.

Other agencies like the larger Miami-Dade Police Department already have offered to help Miami Police if needed.

If the controversial, twice-impeached president, who still attracts crowds of loyal supporters, is driven downtown from Doral, expect delays along either State roads 836 or 112 and likely on parts of I-95. But if he is escorted to town from his Palm Beach County home, the more than one-hour drive south on I-95 south could turn into a parade-like procession or law enforcement could shut down the interstate like it does for sitting presidents.

CNN reported Friday morning that the former president’s Secret Service detail was still working on an appearance plan and that once he enters the federal courthouse he will be handed over to U.S. Marshals, who will arrest and fingerprint him electronically to avoid ink stains. In New York state court in April he did not have a mugshot taken. And CNN said any pictures taken by U.S. Marshals will stay out of public view.

Though Miami’s Chief Morales said he has no plans for a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s expected appearance by the former president, his position is unlikely to sway elected leaders from taking to a podium at some point — just as New York City Mayor Eric Adams did in the days leading to Trump’s court arraignment in Lower Manhattan in early April.

After Adams warned the public that New York City was “our home, not a playground,” protests barely materialized. And with all of New York City’s 36,000 sworn officers in uniform, only a few dozen stragglers showed up at the Lower Manhattan courthouse and the city remained peaceful.

Miami’s most recent large protests were fairly peaceful. Though there were outbreak early on during the civil rights protests in the summer of 2020, with the exception of the first night, they were well contained. The city also was quiet in the days around the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Rachel Johnson, deputy chief of staff for Miami-Dade County’s mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, said the county is working with Miami to prepare for the event. So far, she said, federal authorities haven’t been part of that process.

“MDPD is collaborating with the city of Miami on a security plan,” Johnson said, “but we haven’t received any formal requests for support yet.”

One possible mitigating factor is the quick roundup and convictions of many of those who were responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Former local Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio, for instance, was convicted last month of seditious conspiracy for his part in the Capitol attack. He could be imprisoned for two decades. Also behind bars, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes, sentenced to 18 years in prison three weeks ago on similar charges.

Though those convictions and others could help keep possible troublemakers at bay on Tuesday, charging a former president with a federal crime is uncharted territory, said Chuck Wexler, executive director Washington, D.C.’s Police Executive Research Forum. Wexler said he’s confident that with recent events in mind law enforcement will “step up its game” and keep the peace Tuesday.

“It’s just a rare situation where you have a (former) president protected by Secret Service and on the other hand, charged with a federal crime. But given the events of Jan. 6, police are attuned in preparing for events that may have larger impacts,” he said. “There’s an element out there that’s larger than just the indictment and we learned that on Jan. 6. The element is worrisome and law enforcement is aware of it.”