Travail to the Chief
On Monday morning, August 27, 2001, Miami Police Chief Raul Martinez greeted three visitors: retired FBI agent Virgil Young from Tennessee, Austin Police Department Commander Robert Gross from Texas, and Albuquerque PD Lt. Steve Nix of New Mexico.
If the chief wasn't nervous, he should have been. These men held in their hands his department's reputation -- at least among his peers. They were assessors for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), a highly respected organization that evaluates police departments nationwide. Those that meet CALEA's rigorous standards become part of an elite group. Of 25,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, only about 500 have passed muster. It's a big deal, and it comes with payoffs. Insurance rates go down. Juries tend to trust departments that meet tough national standards.
The Miami Police Department has been a CALEA-certified agency since 1995. Young, Gross, and Nix were in town for the mandatory three-year reassessment. These reassessments are normally routine affairs; the hard part is passing CALEA's evaluations in the first place. That process takes 36 months of grueling scrutiny. More than 400 procedures -- everything from evidence-handling to vehicle pursuits and police shootings -- are closely examined.
In his office on the fourth floor of police headquarters, 400 NW Second Ave., Chief Martinez told the assessors he's committed to CALEA's professional demands. He confided that things were tense: He needed to hire more officers, he had to ensure that his cops were being thoroughly trained, and the city was hot over some recent police shootings. But he was preaching to the converted. They know it's a tough job. They all wear guns.
Group picture. All four men posed as a department photographer memorialized the visit.
The assessors never did get a copy of that photograph. By the time the three cops were ready to leave town, Martinez was not in any mood to hand out mementos.
What should have been a clerical review of the department's procedures turned into a tortuous journey through a bureaucratic swamp. The assessors discovered that files they needed to review were not dated correctly or were lost entirely; various memoranda were riddled with typos and spelling errors; training manuals and copies of the department's Standard Operating Procedures were out of print (recruits were limping along with photocopied pages); there was no evidence that specialized weapons like submachine guns and sniper rifles were inspected regularly; scribbled opinions about officers involved in shootings were passed off as the thorough analysis required by CALEA. Other things, such as a broken gate securing access to a police parking lot, only made matters worse. The place was a jumbled mess. "The files that the assessors had to work with were the most poorly organized that any of the assessors had ever seen," Young, Gross, and Nix wrote in their final report. In late September of last year the team unanimously recommended that certification be revoked. CALEA executives agreed, and Miami's police department was booted out of the organization.
It was a stinging rebuke for Chief Raul Martinez. Not only did the stripped certification drop his department behind peers like the Miami-Dade and Miami Beach police departments, but pip-squeak agencies like Aventura and Indian Creek Village could now claim a distinction Miami could not.
Martinez's boss, City Manager Carlos Gimenez, had this reaction to the humiliating episode: "My understanding is that this was a record-keeping issue and that the person responsible has been replaced."
"That's the kind of answer you would expect," scoffs Kenneth Harms, a former Miami police chief who reviewed the CALEA report at the request of New Times. "If the manager truly believes it was simply a bookkeeping problem, he should take the time to read the report and see the scope of the problem. The problem is much deeper than that."
Harms was police chief from 1978 to 1984. He left after a bitter feud with City Manager Howard Gary, who was later implicated and became a cooperating witness in the corruption scandal known as Operation Greenpalm. "This is a train wreck," says Harms, "a disaster for a department to be issued this kind of report when they had years to prepare for it. This is a significant event."
"Somebody dropped the ball there," agrees Clarence Dickson, who succeeded Harms as Miami police chief, a position he held from 1985 to 1989. "That's just negligent. If they had [maintained CALEA standards], we might not have had the shootings we had, and some of the other unethical goings-on."
Within a month of the assessors' visit, significant goings-on were piling up at the police department faster than barracuda on baitfish. Just one week after the assessors departed, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced the indictment of thirteen Miami cops for their roles in a series of shootings in which the officers allegedly planted evidence. Later that month former police Chief Donald Warshaw, Martinez's mentor, was sent to federal prison for embezzling money from a police charity. By November public confidence in the department had eroded so dramatically that Miami voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of a powerful Civilian Investigative Panel to monitor a police agency that appeared incapable of monitoring itself.
But it didn't end there. In December the State Attorney's Office quietly closed an investigation into a complaint by several cops that the head of Miami's internal-affairs unit, Maj. Frank Christmas, had obstructed justice in a murder investigation, and had done so with Chief Martinez's approval. Prosecutors wanted to know why the officers were transferred after they complained, and why the murder suspect remained at large.
Had the CALEA assessors stayed in town long enough to witness all this, they might have been excused for thinking they'd stumbled into a parallel universe: In Miami they arrest the cops and let the murderers go free.
(According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 106 Miami police officers have had their state certification yanked since 1980 for offenses ranging from misconduct to criminal convictions.)
Re-establishing the police department's credibility through fundamental reforms is an urgent priority for Miami's city administration. Which raises a question: Is Raul Martinez, who has served as chief the past two years, the right person to accomplish that difficult task? A 26-year veteran of the force, he is, after all, a product of the very system he's being asked to overhaul. City Manager Gimenez is guardedly optimistic. "I have no plans right now to replace him," he hedges. "I think there are problems all over the place in that department. That's no secret. But a lot of those problems were inherited [by Martinez]."
That optimism, however cautious, is not shared by all. "Forget the personality of Raul Martinez for a moment," says Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton. "In general in any organization, if you need significant reform -- and most people, including me, agree reform is needed in the Miami Police Department -- it is virtually impossible to get that done by anybody within the system. They can't see it. They have too much vested in the existing system."
A police chief at another department in Miami-Dade County echoes Winton's analysis. "You can't micromanage your way out of this," he says, referring to Martinez's well-known preoccupation with details. "To make change like this from the inside is not easy. You're asking the impossible."
Skepticism exists even within Martinez's own department. "I think he has good intentions, but I don't think he can make the changes necessary," says one senior Miami officer who has been on the force many years and who asked not to be identified. "He's not a decision-maker, not a leader. He hasn't been a radical force for change here."
Attorneys who have sued the department on behalf of clients claiming they were victims of police misconduct often gain a unique perspective from their extensive research preparing for trial. (Since 1990 the City of Miami has spent more than $18 million to settle claims against the police department.) "There is just a lack of leadership," alleges Michael Feiler, who recently won a settlement of nearly one million dollars. "And even though they've admitted there's a problem, no one has stepped forward with a plan."
Barbara Heyer, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer whose client was awarded millions in damages stemming from a 1996 shooting death, also criticizes police leadership. "There are no checks and balances in that department," she says. "This crisis is the result of supervisors who did not monitor the line officers." As for Chief Martinez specifically, Heyer is blunt: "He is part of the problem."
Born in Havana in 1950, Martinez escaped to the U.S. at age twelve as part of the children's airlift known as Operation Pedro Pan. After graduating from Miami Senior High School in 1968 he worked a stockroom, clerked a grocery store, and installed Southern Bell telephones. In 1974 he signed up as a police officer. He was 24 years old, had been married one year, and wore a bushy mane of hair and thick mustache, à la Chico and the Man.
Miami police were widely respected at that time, according to officers in and outside the department. And the city wasn't averse to hiring chiefs from elsewhere. But that ended when Chief Bernard Garmire, who had come from Arizona in 1969, helped initiate an investigation into Mayor David Kennedy, who was later indicted for bribery. Kennedy's successor, Maurice Ferré, helped push Garmire out in 1974. Since then every police chief has been appointed from within the department, a practice that fosters inappropriate meddling by city hall, according to one former high-ranking Miami officer.
At the time, though, Martinez had more pressing concerns than the department's loss of autonomy. He was a rookie hitting the streets at a time when drugs began flowing through Miami like floodwater. In 1976 a pot dealer shot at and narrowly missed Martinez. That same year he helped seize 5000 pounds of marijuana and four pounds of cocaine. He won accolades for his undercover work setting up large cocaine, marijuana, and methaqualone buys. By 1978 he had distinguished himself sufficiently to be named officer of the year by the City of Miami and the Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police.
In 1980, the year Martinez earned his sergeant's stripes, two events conspired to change the police department forever. Fidel Castro unleashed the Mariel boatlift, which inundated Miami with roughly 125,000 refugees in a matter of weeks. That was also the year a Tampa jury acquitted four white Miami police officers in the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance salesman. In the widespread rioting that followed, eighteen people died. Miami simply was not equipped to handle this tsunami of human turmoil.
Concurrently the federal Department of Justice was pressuring the city to hire more minority police officers. Miami officials agreed to increase the ratio of minorities to 80 percent. In addition all the recruits had to come from within Miami city limits. (Previously the department recruited nationally.) A former Miami captain recalls the transformation: "Between 1980 and 1982 we went from around 580 officers to about 1100. I remember looking at the numbers and thinking, 'There's no way we can do that.' We had field-training officers with less than eighteen months on the job training recruits. You're going to make a lot of mistakes like that."
Indeed mistakes were made. The "extreme political pressure for rapid expansion" at the department meant that "standards suffered dramatically," wrote Edwin Delattre, a professor at Boston University and author of a study on ethics and policing. The diminished recruitment standards are widely blamed for the worst scandal in the department's history. In the 1985 River Cops case, dozens of officers were indicted for stealing drugs and cash from drug dealers and then covering up the crimes. The case broke when a group of rogue cops stormed a ship on the Miami River intending to rip off a cocaine shipment. Several men guarding the drugs jumped overboard. Three drowned.
Martinez's career trajectory was quickly accelerating at this time; he was being promoted every couple of years. By 1984 he had attained the rank of major and was assigned to the community-relations unit. In April 1985 Major Martinez took command of the department's internal-affairs unit (then called internal security), charged with the delicate task of investigating allegations of wrongdoing among officers.
He rose swiftly through the ranks despite two notable controversies.
At 2:00 a.m. on October 12, 1977, Martinez and three other vice-squad officers rented a hotel room at a local Howard Johnson, from which they called an escort service and requested the services of four women. According to the cops' version of events, after the prostitutes arrived, the officers negotiated prices for sex acts. When the women appeared willing to perform the acts, the cops arrested them.
The women told a strikingly different story. According to accounts published in the now-defunct Miami News, the women informed their lawyer that the officers had sex with them first, then placed them under arrest. One of the women claimed she performed oral sex on Martinez before he took her into custody. The woman's attorney, Jeffrey Weiner, had her take a polygraph test. She passed. Judge Robert Deehl asked Martinez if he would also take a polygraph test. Martinez refused. Deehl then recused himself from the case. "Deehl felt Martinez's refusal to take a lie-detector test would lead him to acquit the woman," the News reported in a February 1, 1978, article.
Deehl handed over the case to Judge Morton Perry. During cross-examination Martinez conceded being in bed naked with one hooker, according to the News,and that she performed oral sex on him briefly before he arrested her.A stunned Perry dismissed the charges against all four women, three of whom were underage. "Judge Perry said he was so shocked by the officer's concession of unethical behavior that he had no choice but to acquit the woman of all charges," the News reported. Perry called for an internal investigation into all the officers' conduct and presciently noted "it was further evidence of the need for a civilian review board to oversee the police."
The department defended the officers. A police spokesman claimed that prosecutors had told vice cops to engage in sex with suspects to build stronger cases. State Attorney Janet Reno retorted, "We do not encourage any officer to engage in any illegal conduct."
Today Deehl says he still remembers the case and that he was surprised the police officer refused the polygraph. "That's the only time that ever happened. I remember somebody accused me once of taking a bribe and I couldn't get to a polygraph fast enough," Deehl relates, adding that he didn't remember the officer's name until an acquaintance recently informed him the very same officer was now chief of police. "That's something, isn't it?"
According to a police spokesman quoted in the Miami News, the department acceded to Judge Perry's request for an investigation into Martinez's conduct. But no record of that incident was found during a recent New Times review of internal-affairs investigations and Martinez's personnel file.
"I can tell you that no oral sex was performed on me," Martinez contends. "Not the way I recall it anyway. It was investigated by internal affairs and even the State Attorney's Office, and none of us were reprimanded." As for his refusal to submit to a polygraph, Martinez says that was the prosecutor's decision.
One allegation against Martinez from the mid-Eighties did end up in his file. In 1985, just as the criminal case against the River Cops was gaining momentum, the department found itself in the crosshairs of another probe. The FBI subpoenaed the records of 25 officers, including then-Lt. Raul Martinez, while pursuing claims of corruption by several drug dealers. The dealers' allegations were aimed at Miami's Special Investigative Services (SIS) division, an elite squad responsible for undercover drug busts in the late Seventies and early Eighties.
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.
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."
Attorney Barbara Heyer, who represented Brown's family, simply laughs when asked about the report. The evidence she gathered in researching the incident was so overwhelmingly negative that Miami's city attorney wrote in a 1999 memo that the city should settle the case because it would certainly lose in court. As a result Miami taxpayers shelled out $2.5 million in damages.
In 1998 Martinez retired from the police force after 24 years to become a bureaucrat. His chief, Donald Warshaw, had been hired as city manager, and he in turn hired Martinez as an assistant city manager. It was a brief stint. In the uproar following Elian Gonzalez's April 2000 seizure by federal agents, police Chief William O'Brien resigned, Warshaw replaced him with Martinez, Warshaw himself was fired, and Carlos Gimenez was hired as the new city manager.
While it is true, as Gimenez says, that Martinez inherited the police department's many problems, it soon became apparent the new chief was not moving expeditiously to correct them. One example was the department's North District substation, which covers the Model City, Little Haiti, and Upper Eastside neighborhoods. For years rumors circulated within the department that North District cops were partnering with drug dealers. The rumors were credible. Since 1995 three North District officers have been caught stealing drugs, drug money, or transporting drugs. Three more were recorded in wiretaps talking with known drug dealers. And last year a federal inmate detailed for New Times ("Under Suspicion," March 1, 2001) his involvement with a half-dozen North District cops in stealing money from drug dealers. (Internal-affairs investigators had never interviewed the inmate.) Despite such compelling evidence of criminal activity, Martinez, like his predecessors, did nothing. No reassignments, no promises to clean house. He simply said the problems were isolated and caused by "a few bad apples."
Martinez handed his critics more ammunition in May 2001 when he appointed Maj. Frank Christmas, who had been homicide commander, to perhaps the most sensitive position in the department: head of the internal-affairs division. A month after Christmas assumed his new post, the public-corruption unit of the State Attorney's Office began investigating him.
As reported in New Times ("Taking Heat," June 14, 2001), three homicide detectives -- a sergeant and two lieutenants -- claimed that Christmas obstructed justice by ordering a murder investigation to be dropped, allegedly because Christmas wanted to protect a witness who was a family friend. After the trio took their complaint to Chief Martinez, Christmas transferred them out of homicide. (Two of them ended up on the midnight shift.) Christmas denied he moved them to thwart their investigation, and Martinez concedes he met with the officers but denies they mentioned anything about Christmas's alleged obstruction of justice.
In the end the State Attorney's Office did not bring charges against Christmas, but the prosecutor who closed the investigation felt strongly enough about the case to write: "It is disturbing to consider what sort of a chilling effect this will have on any other officers who may want to come forward with any evidence of wrongdoing, either perceived or actual, in the future."
Pressure on the 52-year-old chief hasn't let up. Only a month ago the Miami City Commission convened a special session devoted to an examination of the police department. Martinez was liberally criticized for his agency's fall from grace. "Trust has been lost by the police department in our community," intoned Commissioner Joe Sanchez, a former Florida Highway Patrol officer. Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Tomas Regalado echoed that sentiment. Even Manager Carlos Gimenez took a shot. Morale within the department was low, he scolded, and "probably will get worse before it gets better."
Martinez tried to defend his department by pointing out that crime rates are down. But he ended up conceding the commissioners' point. "You're right," he said. "Without citizen support we can't go forward."
Then he added, "That's why we asked the Justice Department: 'What have we done wrong? Go through A-to-Z and tell us what to do, and we'll implement it." That was a reference to Martinez's well-publicized invitation to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking a complete review of his agency's policies and procedures. (The feds accepted.)
This has been the chief's modus operandi since the U.S. Attorney's Office indicted thirteen of his officers late last year: tactical retreat. He dropped his opposition to the Civilian Investigative Panel after the public clamor for its passage grew intense. He's created panels of civilians and cops to review all police shootings since 1990. He says he welcomes Mayor Manny Diaz's suggestion that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate all future shootings. And now he wants the federal government to tell him how to fix his department. Implicit in all this is an unspoken admission that the chief believes he cannot implement significant reforms on his own.
A month after the commission's special session, City Manager Gimenez announced that he would resign in January 2003. Mayor Diaz, who urged Gimenez to step down, said he wanted to look beyond Miami for a replacement, that an outsider's perspective would be good for the city.
Might that approach apply to the police department as well? The mayor said he would "reserve comment" on that point.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.