Miami Police Union Chief Javier Ortiz Accused of Erasing Cell-Phone Footage During Traffic Stop
Photo by Bill Cooke
This past Monday, Miami Police Lt. Javier Ortiz won a major court victory when he persuaded a judge to lift a temporary restraining order that had stripped him of his badge for nearly a month. But the very next night, he was yet again facing serious accusations before an official body.
This time, the extremely voluble president of Miami's police union was accused of deleting video footage from the cell phone of a man who filmed a traffic stop in Brickell. The Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), an independent group that considers complaints against Miami cops, ended up closing the case after the accuser declined to press charges.
But the claims of cell-phone tampering are just the latest against Ortiz. The union head, who has made national news by criticizing the victims of police shootings and celebs such as Beyoncé, has faced 31 citizen complaints and 14 use-of-force investigations during his 13-year career.
In this case, the accusations came from 25-year-old Weltonyson Voltaire, who said he was properly parked near SW Second Avenue and SW Tenth Street in December 2015 when a Miami cop approached his car and demanded to see his driver's license.
Voltaire "refused to provide the documents and demanded to speak to a supervisor because he felt he had done nothing wrong," his complaint states. As he spoke to the officer, Voltaire began filming with his cell phone, which he propped up on his dashboard.
A few minutes later, Ortiz arrived on the scene. Voltaire said the lieutenant reached into the car, took out his phone, and "manipulated it" before removing the battery and throwing it back into the car.
"Lt. Ortiz laughed and told him if he wanted to be a tough guy and take video, he was going to take video in jail, because that was where he belonged," Voltaire told investigators.
Voltaire was later arrested for "obstructing a lawful order" (a charge quickly dropped by prosecutors) and booked into custody. When he was released and reclaimed his possessions, he told investigators, much of the video he had shot of the cops had been deleted. On December 15, Voltaire filed an internal affairs complaint against Ortiz and the other officers on the scene.
IA investigators took up the case but quickly ran into a roadblock. Though Voltaire had been cooperative during interviews about his claims, he balked when investigators asked to keep his cell phone to perform forensic exams. Voltaire contacted his lawyer, who advised him not to give his phone to the cops.
The officers on the scene, meanwhile, told another story. Sgt. Maximilliano Valdes, the officer who first approached Voltaire's car, said Voltaire was improperly parked and had illegally dark tinting on the windows of his car. And when IA investigators interviewed Ortiz, the union chief denied talking to Voltaire and also denied touching his cell phone.
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In the end, IA closed Voltaire's complaint as "inconclusive" because the case was essentially his word against Ortiz's and because Voltaire refused to let police take his phone for further examination.
Last night, the CIP also took up the case — and, like IA, also closed it with no official finding because Voltaire told the panel's investigators that "he does not wish to pursue this complaint because he knows it will be his word against the two officers'."
Ortiz is back on full duty with the Miami Police Department after being suspended with pay for almost a month. He lost his badge and gun when a judge granted a temporary restraining order to Claudia Castillo, a citizen who had filmed a viral video of herself pulling over a speeding cop on the highway; Ortiz posted her phone number and photos on Facebook and urged his followers to harass her.
Castillo obtained a restraining order after claiming Ortiz had followed her after last month's CIP hearing, when the group heard her complaint that Ortiz had doxxed her. (The board sustained complaints that Ortiz had broken department policy by doing so.)
But this past Monday, a judge ruled Castillo didn't prove Ortiz had stalked her out of the meeting, so the restraining order was dropped, allowing Ortiz to return to work.
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