The Chief before the storm
The Chief before the storm
Steve Satterwhite

Raul Martinez's Goddaddy

After a brutal year, Miami Police Chief Raul Martinez announced his resignation last week. He'll leave on New Year's Day. And while the announcement caught many off-guard, including the mayor, it was not unexpected. His decision had been in the works for a while, and the consequence of not resigning was clearly spelled out for him: He would eventually be ousted.

"This was not unexpected," says City Manager Carlos Gimenez. "We had discussed him leaving the city weeks before."

Not that Martinez wanted to go. The chief reportedly enlisted the help of friends, including a powerful businessman with a criminal conviction. Apparently this businessman approached city hall to lobby on his behalf, even going so far as to threaten a grass roots campaign via Spanish language radio to save the chief's job. But as Friday's announcement makes clear, those roots didn't grow.

Note that Martinez's departure date is January 1, 2003, five days before City Manager Gimenez resigns from office. Gimenez supports the chief, but he is leaving and Martinez could not count on that support from the new manager, whoever it will be. That's because in a rare show of unity, the city commission and Mayor Manny Diaz have agreed they want a new chief and serious changes in the department.

What convinced them to seek new blood was more than a year's worth of bad news, starting with the feds rounding up thirteen Miami officers and charging them with planting evidence at the scenes of several shootings.

Those arrests, followed by voters approving a Civilian Investigative Panel to monitor city police, and several internal scandals, all helped to diminish the top cop's credibility. But the event that pushed Martinez's career to the brink was a New Times story ("Travail to the Chief," August 22, 2002), which revealed, among other things, that the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), an organization that evaluates the professional standards of police forces, had yanked Miami's certification for non-compliance. "The files that the assessors had to work with were the most poorly organized that any of the assessors had ever seen," the CALEA examiners wrote in their report.

What irked the commissioners and the mayor was that Chief Martinez's administration presented the decertification as a technical, administrative problem. And everyone took Martinez's word for it. Until the story came out, and city hall requested its own copy of the report.

"The chief told the manager the [CALEA] thing was no problem, and that's what the manager told me," says Commissioner Johnny Winton. "Well, guess what, there was a problem."

Of course, at that point it was just fuel for the fire. "There was pressure growing, but after the New Times story it just got worse," one city hall aide says.

And that's when Camilo Padreda arrived on the scene. Padreda, a GOP fundraiser and successful developer, is described by many in the department as a friend and patron of Martinez. One veteran cop calls him Martinez's "Goddaddy." He was also involved in the corruption trial of Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez (no relation to the chief) in 1991. The feds accused the Hialeah mayor of rigging bids so that construction work would go to Padreda. Padreda cut a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to falsifying loan documents. A judge sentenced Padreda to house arrest and probation. (The charges against Mayor Martinez were dropped after a mistrial and an appeals court ruling.)

Starting in late September Padreda contacted Mayor Diaz and Gimenez and warned them to lay off the chief, according to two sources with knowledge of those events. If the officials didn't leave the chief alone, Padreda cautioned, he would start a campaign on Spanish radio telling people there was a conspiracy to oust the Cuban police chief. The mayor and manager apparently were not impressed.

Though there were witnesses, Padreda denied meeting the mayor or manager. "I don't have any idea, I swear to God, where you're getting your information. Yes, [Raul] is my friend, I've known him for 30 years. [But] I don't have time to fool around [like] that." Mayor Diaz was unavailable. Gimenez said only, "I was approached by a lot of people supporting the chief."

The radio did begin to rumble, however: "I was criticized a couple of times," says Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, a frequent critic of the PD. "And yeah, I heard that these guys, [Padreda] and others, said that if they tried to fire the chief [they] were going on the radio."

But a busy election season muffled the message and the issue never gained momentum.

In addition to the public pressure to cleanse the department, Martinez is sick. It is widely known that he had a tumor operation. Many in the department say that he has cancer. When New Times asked directly about this in August, he said, "My personal life is my personal life. There is nothing right now that prevents me from doing my job." But one strong incentive to resign was a recently approved health insurance plan as part of his retirement package. The insurance was an executive benefit granted by the city manager, which might not be available after Gimenez leaves on January 6.

So, with political support non-existent, the prospect of a new boss in January (the city manager is the only one who can fire department heads), and his health to consider, Martinez's future on the force looked bleak. The choice was obvious -- resign and keep your dignity or face the likelihood of a messy battle ahead. It's too bad, Gimenez says. He considers Martinez "an honorable man" who inherited a lot of the problems the department now faces. And, he adds, he felt the chief was working to correct those problems.

But others clearly saw him as part of the problem. After 28 years on that force, Martinez was being asked to overhaul not only the system that created him, but the one that rewarded him. In that sense he's part of a continuum. "I hold the chief only partially responsible" for problems in the department, Winton says. Past chiefs are to blame as well. "Quality leadership would prevent the kind of institutionalized mismanagement that's occurred there."


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