Travail to the Chief

Raul Martinez is a product of Miami's dysfunctional police department, so how can he be expected to transform it?

Oscar Oliva Cantu, a drug dealer Martinez had investigated, alleged in court that Martinez, while working in SIS, had taken two payoffs: one to destroy tapes of wiretaps that implicated Cantu, and another as payment for a tipoff about a planned traffic stop. Another SIS officer, Raul Puig, was arrested and eventually convicted of working for Cantu. According to a police department report, Puig originally told the FBI that both he and Martinez took money from Cantu. The FBI did not believe it had enough evidence to charge Martinez and dropped the case.

But in 1989 Miami police investigators followed up on the allegations. They interviewed twenty people. When they talked with Puig, he recanted his allegation and said he was pressed by the feds to implicate Martinez, according to the department's report, which cleared Martinez in 1991.

While Martinez dismisses the allegations as coming from "a drug dealer I put away," to this day there are federal agents in Miami who do not trust him, according to three Miami police insiders and a former federal official. That's largely because Martinez's credibility was severely damaged in 1986, when he was summoned before a grand jury to answer questions about Cantu's claims.

Steve Satterwhite
Former Miami Police Chief Kenneth Harms says the CALEA decertification was a "disaster" for the department, but only one of many
Steve Satterwhite
Former Miami Police Chief Kenneth Harms says the CALEA decertification was a "disaster" for the department, but only one of many

Rather than cooperate, Martinez invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He maintains he did it on the advice of his police-union lawyer. "I regretted it immediately," he says today. "People forget that people have a constitutional right to do that [take the Fifth]. But I regret not having had a cooler head and saying, 'Hey, I got nothing to hide.' And I immediately demanded to give a sworn statement to the FBI, without my lawyer."

Taking the Fifth still rankles his critics inside the department. "To any other officer, if we took the Fifth we would not be here," says a senior officer who asked not to be named.

Martinez stepped down as commander of internal affairs shortly after the grand jury commotion. He told Chief Clarence Dickson he didn't want to impugn the unit. "To his credit he did ask to be moved," Dickson recounts. "He would have been removed anyway, I will say that."

Otherwise the consequences for Martinez were minimal. Department brass continued grooming him as a rising star, in part, observers say, because Miami was fast making its transition to a thoroughly Latin city. The police department needed bright Hispanics at the top. In 1991, after being cleared in the Cantu report, Martinez landed at the side of Chief Donald Warshaw as one of three assistant chiefs.

In his new position Martinez became one of the four most powerful men in the police department. He ran the field-operations division and oversaw the innovative Neighborhood Enhancement Team project, an experiment in one-stop shopping for city services.

Martinez's expanded responsibilities also included sitting on a panel that examines police shootings. The Discharge of Firearms Review Board (DFRB), composed of the assistant chiefs, is not responsible for investigating actual shootings. Board members review reports filed by homicide, internal affairs, and the medical examiner's office to ensure that the officers involved acted "within departmental guidelines."

In the wake of last year's federal indictments, however, the DFRB has been denounced by activists in Miami's black communities who believe its true purpose is to protect the department from critical scrutiny.

When Martinez chaired the board, a shooting review routinely took a year to two years. Martinez says the process was slow because the DFRB didn't want its work to conflict with possible criminal cases. But sources inside the department argue that for the board to be effective, it must assert itself soon after a shooting incident -- "at least to determine if there are any procedural problems or training problems that need to be addressed," according to one high-ranking officer who commented only on condition of anonymity.

Martinez chaired the board that reviewed the notorious 1996 shooting death of 72-year-old Richard Brown. A SWAT team with a search warrant raided Brown's Overtown apartment and ended up discharging 122 rounds, even as the suspect's fourteen-year-old daughter cowered in a bathroom. Police didn't even know she was there until after the smoke cleared. So many weapons were fired that one officer was shot in the rear of his bulletproof vest by a colleague. Some bullets went wildly off target.

Martinez's board issued its report on August 26, 1998, two years after the shooting, and cleared all officers of any wrongdoing or procedural mistakes. "Everybody knew that shooting was just bad police work -- not necessarily in a criminal sense, more in a procedural sense -- but it was cleared," complains the high-ranking officer, who is familiar with the proceedings in that case. The unit responsible, SWAT, also happened to be under Martinez's command, and this officer believes the review board was reluctant to publicly criticize it for that reason.

The report acknowledges concerns about the execution of the raid, but carefully defends every issue: Officers feared for their lives when they allegedly saw Brown fire a pistol at them; unavoidable confusion ensued when police retreated, leading to errant shots; earlier surveillance did not notice the girl. "With the information presented to the board, there was no evidence of wrongdoing or impropriety by any of the officers involved," the report states. "Even though no impropriety was found, the board's concerns have been conveyed to all SWAT commanders and passed down to all members of the SWAT team."

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