By Trevor Bach
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The story went this way: Stuck at MIA en route to Houston, flyweight Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton gulped down 16 drinks — wine, whiskey, amaretto, and beer. Then he got loud. Delays stink, he carped. The airlines are worthless.
A nervous gate attendant called the cops. When two very large officers cuffed the blue-eyed, five-foot-five-inch pol, Winton went wacko. He head-butted Ofcr. Chuck Greene and kicked decorated 28-year veteran Juan Murias in the balls, causing "disability, disfigurement ... and loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life," according to a never-reported lawsuit filed last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Greene and Murias subdued the 56-year-old father of three and hauled him to jail. He was charged with two felonies. The mug shot of Winton — dried blood covering his face, chin, and nose like rotting hamburger — appeared in newspapers across the nation the next day. And that effectively ended a controversial political career in America's most corrupt city.
That's the story anyway.
"All lies," Winton says. "I'm long-term pissed about their lies. The cops were nastier than shit."
Winton spoke about the May 2006 conflict for the first time publicly last week, convincingly describing — with a heavy dose of profanity — the implausibility of the police version of events. He also laid out a compelling theory that a cabal of local politicians blocked his return to office. And he described the toll it took on his family.
Winton sounds like a tough guy. Born in a working-class neighborhood in Albuquerque, he says he brawled lots as a kid, "100 or so times.... I was always the smallest guy in the class." Most of the fights were in high school, he adds, "but I don't remember anyone ever going to the hospital, and I don't remember ever kicking anyone in the balls."
Because of high blood pressure, which still plagues him, he missed the war in Vietnam. He's been married four times to three women — you do the math. He moved to Miami in 1980 and, after struggling a bit, made big money in the Eighties on office parks and downtown real estate. (Today he lives in a swanky million-dollar home in Coconut Grove.)
New Times profiled Winton when he first ran for office in 1998. The most telling moment in the story came when the candidate faced a critic at a cookout. After the guy made a flip comment, Winton screamed in response and then told our reporter: "That's the part of me my wife said will not allow me to be a politician. When I get shit, I get pissed off."
Yet he succeeded pretty well until the 2006 airport dustup. Before Winton was elected, he says, "downtown was a shithole where you could not make any money and there was nothing in the pipeline. But I met with, like, 30 developers early on. It became an avalanche." His real estate genius will someday make him known as a prime architect of the new downtown, he believes.
Of course, he was no choir boy. He joined Mayor Manny Diaz and City Manager Joe Arriola in flipping a Coconut Grove house for more than $5 million in 2005, even while he was voting on the mayor's salary. He later paid a $750 fine for that one. "Plain and simple, I screwed up," he says. "But it was in my disclosure forms — I didn't try to hide anything. I blew it."
When Winton begins to describe the airport confrontation, his face reddens and his voice quickens. His neck muscles flex like a rope tightening on a pulley. "The motherfuckers. The cocksuckers," he calls the two cops.
"It was a weather-delayed flight," he recalls. "The airplane was at the gate, but then there was some nasty-ass weather — a thunderstorm."
So he headed to a bar near the gate in Concourse A, where three travelers from Houston and a young guy bound for Finland had all been grounded. "The kid," he says, "was drinking shots and beers, having a ball, and I was paying." Winton says he downed only wine — four glasses in two hours. "I'm a drinker, so that was just a warmup for me." (He says he's since given up the sauce.)
One of the Houston travelers left the bar, learned the flight had been cancelled, and protested violently. The gate agent called police. "Classic crappy airline service where the customers get the shaft," Winton says. A few minutes later, Greene and Murias showed up at the bar. Winton told them he was a city commissioner; he'd keep it calm. The officers left.
After some time passed, he headed to the restroom and saw the plane was gone. "I started raising hell," Winton admits. The gate agent again called Greene and Murias, who returned "and were nasty as shit," Winton says. Though he pushed a button on his cell phone so his secretary could record the confrontation that followed, it didn't work. (Nor has he been able to obtain airport videotapes from that day.)
Much was made of the fact that Winton told cops he was a city commissioner. "Of all the stuff that was printed about this, that's what pissed me off the most," he says. "I would never do that." In fact he did it only during the first confrontation, before things got ugly.