In December 2017, Melissa Lopez said she stopped to check her phone during a Miami Art Week event when officers from the Miami Police Department (MPD) grabbed her boyfriend and began handcuffing him. She later told New Times she began walking toward her boyfriend when someone stopped her: It was Miami Police Capt. Javier Oritz. She says Ortiz charged at her, shoved her to the ground, and broke her wrist in the process.
Now New Times has obtained photos of Lopez's injuries. Images she provided to the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) — a group of everyday citizens that reviews complaints against Miami cops — show Lopez with bruises on her arms and a bent, swollen wrist. Last week, the CIP voted to sustain allegations of improper procedure, negligence of duty, and excessive force against Ortiz.
"Yet again, we have another case of misconduct by Captain Ortiz," CIP assistant director Rodney Jacobs tells New Times. "Our panel, sadly, was not shocked by the alleged misconduct and continues to urge MPD to take the appropriate action in disciplining Captain Ortiz."
Ortiz, Miami's most controversial cop, is already teetering on the brink of losing his job. The former head of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police union has a long history of use-of-force lawsuits, accusations of racism and lying on duty, and outlandish conduct on-duty — but seemingly had been Teflon and escaped punishment despite years of public complaints about his behavior. According to CIP records, Ortiz has amassed 43 complaints, one driving charge, and 18 use-of-force incidents since he began working for MPD in 2004. But after Ortiz, a white Hispanic man, stood at a city commission meeting earlier this year and claimed he was "a black male," he was suspended indefinitely. (MPD claims he was suspended because he's also being investigated by another law enforcement agency.)
Ortiz is still suspended. Though the CIP cannot formally discipline officers, the latest case is certain to place added pressure on Chief Jorge Colina to finally fire Ortiz.
According to CIP paperwork, MPD's own internal affairs unit claimed evidence could not prove Lopez's allegations against Ortiz were true. But the CIP decided internal affairs had erred.
In a sworn statement, Lopez told CIP investigators that on December 9, 2017, she looked up from her phone to see her boyfriend sitting on the ground while being handcuffed. She said she began to walk toward him and asked what was going on. She told the CIP that as her boyfriend was reassuring her that everything would be OK, Ortiz — who at the time was working an off-duty special event detail — approached her and pushed her with two open hands, one on each of her shoulders. She was wearing heels and fell.
"When she hit the ground, she had instant pain and knew she had injured her wrist," CIP investigators noted.
Lopez said she asked Ortiz for help getting up, but he told her to get up herself. She said she complained that her wrist hurt, but Ortiz arrested her anyway. Her arrest report that evening — on charges of obstructing a police officer and resisting an officer without violence — did not mention Ortiz's assault. Ortiz also failed to write a follow-up response to the resistance report outlining how he had placed his hands on Lopez. When Lopez arrived at a county jail, the CIP said, jail officials medically screened her and refused to place her behind bars because she could not move her wrist. Instead, police transported her to Jackson Memorial Hospital. While she was undergoing x-rays, she said, she informed an unnamed cop that she wanted to file a complaint against Ortiz.
Lopez said that she was out of work for six weeks after the incident while her arm was in a cast and that she had to change jobs afterward — to an industry that paid less.