In 2011, Jesse Campodonico, a 27-year-old fitness trainer from New York, was thrown to the ground and tasered by police at Ultra Music Festival. Campodonico later filed a lawsuit claiming police brutality against the City of Miami and the festival, and Ultra ended up paying $400,000 to settle the case.
Naturally, festival organizers weren’t too keen on rehiring the cops involved in that expensive mistake. So in 2014, shortly after settling with Campodonico, Ultra reps emailed the city to request that the two cops who had tasered him — Sgt. Edward Lugo and police union president Lt. Javier Ortiz — be banned from working future editions of the event.
That didn't sit well with the two officers, both of whom filed grievances saying they were being unfairly disciplined. Now both cops are locked in a court battle with the city, asking not only to be allowed to continue working at Ultra, but also for back pay from the past two years they didn't work the EDM fest.
The origins of the dispute trace to 2011's edition of Ultra, when Campodonico and his girlfriend were stopped by a security guard outside the gates because his girlfriend had a glowstick in her hands. Campodonico complained, which is when he says Ortiz, Lugo, and two other cops stepped in — beating him, choking him, and then tasering him three times on the ground.
Campodonico was charged with battery, but the charges were later dropped. Ortiz was eventually cleared of wrongdoing after an internal affairs investigation. (The other two cops involved in Campodonico's beat-down both later left the force amid unrelated corruption cases.)
After Ultra demanded that the two cops stay away from the festival, Lugo, Ortiz, and the city went to arbitration. The city argued that off-duty jobs are a privilege, not a right, while Ortiz's union claimed the city unfairly put a customer's preference over the rights of the officers.
In May, the arbitrator sided with Lugo and Ortiz, awarding them back pay for 2014 and 2015, the two years they were banned from working off-duty assignments at Ultra. Now the city is now fighting that decision, asking a judge to throw out the arbitrator's ruling.
"A police officer has no more entitlement to work for Ultra than a raver does to attend it," the city's attorneys wrote in a court motion filed last month.
Gene Gibbons, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents the two officers, says the city's attempts to throw out the ruling are "frivolous." He says that neither Lugo nor Ortiz worked Ultra this year because they were working another event but that they should be allowed to work Ultra in future years if they choose to.
"It's not crazy money, but it's money that they would like to earn like everyone else in the police department," he says.
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Attorneys for the city did not respond to a request for comment, but their legal filings are terse. According to the city's most recent motion, the ruling presents a "bizarre dilemma" by which the rights of the officers to work off-duty assignments trump the preference of the event organizers and businesses who pay for police services.
"In light of the award, vendors such as Publix and Winn-Dixie are stuck with an off-duty police officer who is rude or offensive to its customers because the officer chooses to be there," city attorneys wrote.
If the court upholds the arbitrator’s decision, Lugo and Ortiz would be allowed to work the three-day event next year just as any other eligible officer would. Ultra 2017 is scheduled to take place March 24, 25, and 26 at Bayfront Park.