May 10, 2021
Get rid of this bullying Miami cop, Police Chief Acevedo. He’s not just a bad apple, he’s rotten to the core | Editorial
 
 
BY THE MIAMI HERALD EDITORIAL BOARD
 

New Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo will have much on his plate during his first 100 days in office. One of his first moves is obvious: He should fire Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz.

We know it’s a complicated process, and Ortiz is slippery. But it’s time to hold him accountable. He just escaped charges — again — from a state and federal probe and is back on duty. But Acevedo must find a way to remove him from the force. The days of tolerating racist officers like Ortiz are gone. Previous police chiefs have not been able to oust him from the force. The much-anticipated Acevedo must go beyond the hype of his being a fair and proactive chief and get the job done.

Those who have been paying attention have heard of Ortiz — how the long-time, outspoken union boss has used his high position in the Fraternal Order of Police to fend of complaints against him. He is what’s typically called “a bad apple.” Abrasive, he’ll battle with anyone in person or on social media — even Beyoncé, whose 2016 Miami concert he tried to get others to boycott.

In his 16-year career, Internal Affairs has received more than 60 excessive-force and citizen complaints against Ortiz. All have died on the vine. No surprise there: The U.S. Justice Department found Ortiz was the subject of internal affairs investigations that seemed to have been slowed down to protect him. That, in itself, is a disgrace. The number of complaints is surprising, since Ortiz has spent a large part of his career as a supervisor, SWAT commander and union rep, not on the streets. Imagine if he were a beat cop?

BIASED AGAINST BLACKS

A recent, extensive 53-page investigation into Ortiz’s policing career by the state and the FBI — obtained by the Miami Herald from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — details his shockingly bad behavior with the public. It found that Ortiz has exercised “a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, particularly African Americans.” The report also found that Ortiz “has been known for cyber-stalking civilians who question his authority or file complaints against him.” The city has had to pay almost $600,000 to settle lawsuits stemming from his behavior. He’s the total package — and it’s totally unacceptable that this costly cop is still on the force.

Numerous Miami residents gave testimony to investigators of the mistreatment, humiliation and unjust arrests they suffered when they’ve had the misfortune to encounter a uniformed Ortiz, usually as a supervisor on the scene or working off-duty events.

In one disturbing incident a decade ago, Ortiz stopped a young teacher and mother. Octavia Johnson said she had picked up her 1-year-old baby at her mother’s Liberty City home and was pulled over by Ortiz.

Ortiz told Johnson that he stopped her because he saw her buying drugs. When she denied it, he asked how she could afford her new Dodge Charger and what she did for a living. She told him.

“Get the f--- outta here. Who would hire you with gold and tattoos?” Ortiz responded. The traffic stop led to Johnson’s arrest, her face pressed into the pavement, the Herald reported. There were many other instances in the report.

Unfortunately, as is often the case for Ortiz, no charges were filed and the case was closed, as were many others. Ortiz has always been shielded by his position as the department’s union representative. But he recently lost an election and, maybe, his untouchable status.

SUSPENDED FROM DUTY

The report also indicates that the allegations against Ortiz are more about his abuse of police powers and bullying than brutality. But that should offer no solace. Ortiz’s type of policing eats at the public’s trust of police, it’s the demeaning kind that leaves a deep psychological scar on a victim’s psyche.

After being indefinitely suspended in 2020 while under state and federal investigation, Ortiz had a high-profile exchange with a Black Miami commissioner when Ortiz insisted at a public hearing that he was Black when he’s a white Hispanic.

Once the Department of Justice decided it would not bring charges against him, Ortiz has returned to the force.

“The actions of Javier Ortiz remain a stain on law enforcement in Miami,” said Melba Pearson, an attorney and director of policy and programs for FIU’s Center for the Administration of Justice. “Job 1 for Chief Acevedo is to do what previous chiefs have been unable or unwilling to do — get him out — for the good of the department, as well as the community as a whole.”

Until he can fire Ortiz, we suggest Acevedo take these measures to hold him down: Work to get Ortiz decertified as an Florida officer; put a body camera on him. As a captain, Ortiz has the privilege of not wearing one. He should have one on when on duty. The chief should also ban him from working off-duty details, where much of Ortiz’s abuses have occurred.

For now, Ortiz is on desk duty, far from the civilians he has terrorized. But that’s not enough. Ortiz will likely find a way to become abusive again at the expense of Miami residents. Acevedo must see to it that he is off the streets — and off the force.