July 12, 2020
Miami-Dade cops violated policy by posing with Trump sign, department says
 
 
 
By Aaron Leibowitz
 

Two Miami-Dade police officers violated department policy when they posed for photographs with a sign supporting President Donald Trump at a rally in Miami Lakes on Sunday, according to a department spokesman.

Steve Hackett and Juan Rodriguez, who were in uniform as they monitored an “All Lives Matter” rally on Northwest 154th Street Sunday, stood next to one attendee as he held a large banner reading: “Trump 2020 ... Keep America Great!” while another attendee snapped a photo.

They also posed for photographs with people wearing pro-Trump hats and T-shirts.

“I have been advised that this is a violation of departmental policy and is being handled administratively,” Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta told the Miami Herald.

Zabaleta declined to specify which Miami-Dade Police Department policy the officers had violated, saying he couldn’t disclose that information until an administrative review is finished.

The department’s code of conduct says employees “may express opinions on any candidate or issue and participate in any political campaign,” but specifies that this only applies during off-duty hours. 

Department policy related to social media also says employees can’t identify themselves as being affiliated with “supporting, opposing, [or] contradicting any political campaign, initiative, social issue, cause, or religion” while they’re representing the department.

Photographs of Hackett and Rodriguez posing with protesters Sunday were shared on social media by a Miami Herald reporter and by others who attended the event.

The officers told the Herald at the rally that they only intended to show support for their community and not to make a political statement. Both officers work in the town of Miami Lakes, which utilizes the county’s police services and doesn’t have its own department.

Hackett and Rodriguez said they similarly took photographs with demonstrators a week earlier at a protest against police brutality in the same location on Northwest 154th Street, which was held in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Zabaleta said that, if the officers did take photos with the Floyd protesters, that would “possibly” be a violation of policy, potentially depending on whether it could be construed as them representing the department’s views.

The rally this past Sunday was organized at least in part as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter rally the previous weekend — and in response to weeks of civil unrest across the United States as protesters decry police killings of Black people and demand sweeping changes to policing. 

Well over 100 people attended the counter-protest in the largely conservative, Hispanic town of Miami Lakes, carrying American flags, “all lives matter” banners and Trump 2020 signs as a constant stream of cars honked in support for more than three hours.

The organizers, one of whom is affiliated with a group called Cubans4Trump, emphasized support for police officers — “blue lives matter” was a common chant — and also spoke derisively about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hackett and Rodriguez wore bulletproof vests and shin guards as they monitored the event and mostly took a hands-off approach. They were among several officers who helped defuse tensions after a Miami Lakes couple, Paola and Jeffrey Batic, walked to the front of the crowd carrying a sign that said “Black Voices Matter.” 

The protesters gathered around them, screaming and calling them communists. Officers led the couple away from the crowd and across the street.