After Ultra Music Festival's organizers had to shell out $400,000 to an innocent concertgoer who was thrown to the ground, beaten, and tasered by Miami Police officers who lied about their actions in official reports, festival organizers understandably asked the city to send different cops next time.
But because two of the officers banned from working the fest were Miami's former union head, Capt. Javier Ortiz, and his best friend, current union head Edward Lugo, that wasn't the end of the story. Ortiz — who is nationally famed for making racist comments and doxxing random police critics — filed a grievance with Lugo claiming they were being unfairly disciplined for, you know, tasering a guy for no reason and lying about it. They demanded to be not only allowed to continue working at Ultra but also paid for all the festival work they'd missed during the ban.
Amazingly, the first arbitrator who heard the case sided with the cops and ordered the city to fork over thousands of bucks. City attorneys said the ruling created a "bizarre dilemma" that put the rights of officers to work any off-duty assignments above the preference of the event organizers paying for police services.
Now, after a court battle that's spanned another two years, Miami won't have to pay Ortiz and Lugo after all. In an opinion delivered earlier this summer, the Third District Court of Appeals found the arbitrator actually didn't have the authority to order the back pay because working off-duty details is a privilege, not a right. That's clearly spelled out in police departmental orders, the court noted.
"We are pleased with the Third District’s finding that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority under the collective bargaining agreement and look forward to the circuit court vacating the arbitration award," Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez wrote in an email.
Ortiz didn't respond to messages from New Times about the ruling.
The long-running dispute dates to 2011, when New York fitness trainer Jesse Campodonico and his girlfriend Crystal Iglesias were stopped as they tried to enter Ultra because Iglesias was carrying a glowstick. Ortiz and Lugo were among four officers involved in a brutal attack on Campodonico that horrified onlookers and was captured on camera.
“There was nothing I could do but try to survive,” Campodonico told the Miami Herald in 2013. “I was trying to cover myself. There was no fighting back. It was just me trying to protect myself from them killing me.”
The tourist was originally charged with battery, but prosecutors decided not to pursue the case after concluding the video showed he was defenseless while being tasered. They also noted that the officers' sworn statements didn't jibe with Ortiz's official report.
The details of the case concerned Campodonico's attorney so much that he asked prosecutors to criminally charge the officers. State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle's office declined to take action against the politically powerful Ortiz, though.
Two of the four officers involved, Nathaniel Dauphin and Harold James, later pleaded guilty to extortion charges in an unrelated case after admitting to taking cash in exchange for protecting a gambling ring.
So Ortiz and Lugo were the only officers left on the force who were involved in the Ultra beatdown. They went to arbitration with the city over their ban from working Ultra, demanding back pay for the 2014 and 2015 festivals they'd missed. An arbitrator awarded them back pay in May 2016, but the city appealed.
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"A police officer has no more entitlement to work for Ultra than a raver does to attend it," the city's attorneys wrote in one court motion.
An attorney for the pair of officers told New Times at the time that the city's attempt to have the suit thrown out were "frivolous," saying Ortiz and Lugo should be allowed to work the festival "like everyone else in the police department."
But in June, the Third District Court of Appeals found the arbitrator didn't have the power to rule on the matter because extra duty is not covered under the union's contract with the city. Ortiz and Lugo, the appeals court said, were not entitled to any back pay at all.
The case might not be over yet, though. Méndez says the city expects Ortiz and Lugo to ask the Florida Supreme Court to review the case.