May 10, 2021
Miami police captain accused of race bias in state probe demands old job and perks back
 
 
Javier Ortiz is demanding his job back — and the perks, title and money that go with it.
 
Ortiz, a Miami police captain and former union president long notorious for racist social media posts, was the subject of a scathing two-year-long state and federal investigation that wrapped up last month. While it did not result in criminal charges, it detailed a series of dubious arrests, misconduct allegations and “a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, particularly African-Americans.
 
”The department nevertheless lifted Ortiz’ year-long suspension and, two weeks ago, he filed a union grievance seeking full reinstatement to the lofty, lucrative post he held prior to being sent home with pay in January 2020 as a result of the ongoing probe into his conduct.
 
Under union rules, he may well get it back — but the controversial cop may face new hurdles as well from the city manager and a new police chief with a progressive reputation.
 
“He was in charge of almost every high liability unit in the police department,” said attorney Eugene Gibbons, who is representing Ortiz in the grievance he filed with the Fraternal Order of Police. “Basically, they’ve put him in a broom closet. And as far as we’re concerned, that’s unreasonable. He should basically be put back in the same position he was in prior to the suspension.
 
”In the year prior to his suspension, Ortiz occupied some of the most sought-after jobs in the department and was able to bump up his salary to about $200,000 with the addition of specialty pay and coveted off-duty work. The captain, who had wielded tremendous influence as president of the police union during the previous decade, was a deputy commander of most of the city’s highest profile Special Operations units.
 
He oversaw the SWAT and bomb squad units as well as the motorcade and Homeland Security sections. He was in charge of mounted police, K9 units and hostage negotiations.
 
For commanding SWAT and the bomb squad, Ortiz earned about $12,000 in specialty pay in addition to his base salary of $137,000 as a captain in 2019. He made another $50,000 working plum off-duty details at the University of Miami, Marlins Park, AmericanAirlines Arena, the Ultra music festival and the boat show.
 
As a deputy commander of the Special Operations Section, Ortiz supervised six lieutenants, 15 sergeants and 140 police officers.
 
When he returned to duty in late February, Ortiz was given a job in the department’s fleet unit with the same base pay of $137,000. And though he’s already begun working some off-duty assignments, the special pay perks have dried up. He now supervises two people.
 
Even some of his harshest critics are backing the captain’s push to regain his former status because, they say, protecting an officer’s collectively bargained rights is more important than any personal animosity.
 
Tommy Reyes recently defeated Ortiz in a bitterly contested election for president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police. The friction between the two remains palpable. Yet Reyes said he’ll do whatever he can to support the captain’s fight to get his old job back.
 
“If it falls within our bylaws, we’re arguing the case,” Reyes said. “No matter what my personal opinion is, I’m going to defend their rights. I believe, according to the agreement with the city, that they have violated the bargaining agreement by removing him.”
 
The difficulties of firing — or even punishing — police who have the backing of powerful unions has been well documented. But Ortiz’s fight to regain his old responsibilities and pay perks could be complicated by the arrival of the city’s new police chief. Art Acevedo, A tough-talking, camera-loving former chief in Houston with an impressive record of making firings stick, is set to be sworn in Monday.
 
Acevedo said he’s already received an earful from officers and the public who were more than willing to share their thoughts on Ortiz. Still, the new chief was careful to say he needed to thoroughly review the captain’s record and give him proper due process before making a decision on his future.
 
“Lightning doesn’t usually strike twice,” said Acevedo. “But I have no preconceived plan and will thoroughly review the situation. If I conclude that he has no business being a police officer, then I will use every available means to fire him.”
 
Ortiz is fighting to regain his status after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI concluded a two-year investigation into allegations of misconduct against the captain that go back more than a decade. Though the agencies chose not to move forward with criminal charges, FDLE investigators believed that Ortiz’s actions represented “a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, particularly African-Americans,” based on a review of more than a half-dozen confrontations between the police officer and civilians as well as complaints by fellow Miami cops.
 
The 53-page report, obtained by the Miami Herald in March, also found that Ortiz “has been known for cyber-stalking and doxing civilians who question his authority or file complaints against him."
 
So far, despite the string of allegations detailed in the report, the city’s political leaders have offered minimal public commentary on Ortiz, whose previous union leadership gave him powerful political influence.
 
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega did not respond to repeated texts and phone calls this week about the state report on Ortiz.
 
Though the FDLE and FBI investigators reviewed more than 60 excessive force and other complaints against Ortiz dating back to 2013, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights prosecutors chose not to file criminal charges because the case lacked enough physical evidence and some of the incidents occurred beyond the five-year statute of limitations. Another key factor in the Justice Department’s decision: Ortiz’s alleged victims did not suffer substantial bodily injury — like George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer now facing trial for pinning his knee on the black man’s neck and causing his death.
 
The Miami Herald reported on the investigation last week and outlined several complaints the agencies looked into. 
 
Among them: A Black woman who teaches special education at a Brownsville middle school who said Ortiz demanded to see her paycheck after not believing she owned the car she was driving, then pushed her face into the pavement during an arrest as her baby sat strapped in the backseat of her car.
 
Other complaints against Ortiz included a woman who broke her wrist after she said Ortiz pushed her to the ground at an Art Basel event. The woman said she was shoved after questioning the captain about the arrest of her boyfriend for painting graffiti. It turned out the man was using brushes and paint supplied by the event organizer who wanted public input. 
 
Both women eventually had their records cleared, but only after agreeing to pre-trial diversion programs out of fear, they said, of retribution from Ortiz or losing their jobs. The investigation also found that a series of internal affairs investigations appeared to be strategically slowed down to take longer than six months, a mandated time frame that allows police to avoid any repercussion under state statute.
 
Then there were the public racist episodes by the 17-year police veteran that the state and feds didn’t bother looking into. Ortiz berated the city’s highest ranking black Muslim woman for not covering her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. 
 
He got into a tiff with Beyonce and threatened to boycott her concert because he thought she was sympathetic to the Black Panther movement.
 
He called 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot and killed by a Cleveland cop as the child played with a toy gun, a thug. 
 
He flew to Ferguson, Missouri, to barbecue with officers there after civil unrest broke out when an officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Michael Brown during a confrontation.
 
Ortiz was finally suspended in January 2020 by Police Chief Jorge Colina after a heated discussion with the city’s lone black commissioner. In the exchange, Ortiz argued that he was black, but not as black as the commissioner, who earlier had warned Ortiz to stay away from discussing degrees of blackness.
 
That was the last straw for Colina, who at the time said he relieved the captain of duty pending the outcome of state investigation into claims of misconduct. 
Having survived the misconduct probe, Ortiz’s main issue now appears to be steering his way around a wary new boss. 
 
“As a police chief my job is to call balls and strikes and not worry about which way the wind is blowing,” Acevedo said by phone a few days before he was to be sworn is the city’s new police chief. “There is cause for concern. I have to pause and take a look at everything there. It’s on my radar.”