Miami police captain and former police union president Javier Ortiz was reinstated this week after a yearlong suspension. Ortiz was relieved of duty in January 2020 while an outside law-enforcement agency investigated him for alleged misconduct, but those investigations were recently closed with no charges filed against the police captain.
Ortiz and his attorney told New Times that he had been "exonerated" and had returned to work at the Miami Police Department (MPD). MPD spokesperson Kenia Fallat confirmed that Ortiz has been cleared of all criminal wrongdoing and is in the process of returning to full-duty uniform status.
The MPD has not revealed the nature of the criminal allegations against Ortiz, but the Miami Herald reports that the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) were looking into for alleged civil-rights violations before the U.S. Department of Justice dropped the investigation. According to the Herald's report, the FDLE initiated a criminal probe into Ortiz's behavior and then forwarded the investigation to the FBI. Ortiz has repeatedly been accused of using excessive force and making false arrests, although he has time and again been cleared of any wrongdoing by the MPD.
While the FDLE and the FBI have not released details of their investigations, one victim of Ortiz's misconduct tells New Times the FDLE was looking into the captain's pattern of dodging repercussions after numerous complaints from members of the public. Ruben Sebastian, who was roughed up by Ortiz during a traffic stop in 2015 and who later sued Ortiz in federal court, tells New Times he and his attorney were contacted by the FDLE, which was seeking more information about his case against the officer.
"The FDLE investigation had to do with corruption in MPD, and with Ortiz being able to get away with more than 40 internal-affairs investigations without even a slap on the wrist," Sebastian says.
Sebastian's attorney, David Frankel, says he and his client were contacted by the FDLE in 2019, before Ortiz was suspended. According to Frankel, the FDLE contacted another client, Melissa Lopez, who also filed a lawsuit against Ortiz. Frankel says the FDLE's investigation focused on a pattern of civil-rights violations by Ortiz and that his clients were asked about details of their complaints.
In 2016, Sebastian sued Ortiz in federal court for false imprisonment, alleging that Ortiz arrested and detained him without a warrant during a traffic stop and left him restrained for hours using handcuffs that were too tight. Sebastian's arrest led to him losing his job as a Miami-Dade County security guard, despite the fact that the charges against him were subsequently dropped.
Ortiz tried to claim his actions were protected under qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that gives public officials broad leeway against liability, but both the district judge and an appeals judge sided with Sebastian on the issue of excessive force, opining that any reasonable officer in Ortiz's shoes would have known he was violating Sebastian's constitutional rights.The city settled the case with Sebastian in 2019 for $65,000 without admitting guilt.
The city settled the case with Lopez last December, agreeing to pay $100,000 after mediation. Lopez had sued for use of excessive force after an incident during Art Basel 2017 in which she claimed Ortiz pushed her to the ground when she asked why he was arresting her boyfriend. She came out of the altercation with a fractured wrist.
According to city records, Ortiz has been the subject of 56 complaints from citizens since 2008, with allegations ranging from improper procedure and discourtesy to abusive treatment, excessive use of force, and harassment.
Ortiz has also made headlines for his various high-profile antics.
City officials in 2011 demanded an apology from Ortiz after he drew a demonic face on the mugshot of a Black man who had been shot and killed by police and then emailed the drawing to members of the police union.
In January 2016, Ortiz doxxed private citizen Claudia Castillo, publishing her phone number and photo on his social-media profiles and urging his followers to call her after she filmed herself chasing a speeding Miami-Dade County cop in order to get him to pull over to the side of the road. (Her video, in which she scolded the officer for going too fast, went viral, angering many cops.)
Later in 2016, Ortiz famously led a failed boycott of a Beyoncé concert in Marlins Park, suggesting police officers not show up to provide security for the concert owing to the artist's alleged sympathies for the Black Panthers movement.
More recently, Ortiz made national news in January 2020 after it was reported that he lied on two promotional exams by claiming that he, a white-Hispanic man, was "Black, Non-Hispanic." He publicly backed up that claim, asserting to Miami city commissioners that he is a "Black male, or a Negro," drawing ire from civil-rights groups.
Despite the volume of complaints against him and the price he has cost taxpayers in lawsuits and legal settlements, Ortiz has often escaped discipline from internal affairs. The MPD did not investigate him for falsely claiming to be Black, and he received no reprimands for calling on others to harass Castillo in 2016, despite the fact that internal investigators found he'd violated departmental policies.
Sebastian, the former security guard whom Ortiz forcefully handcuffed, believes the city is allowing Ortiz to get away with misconduct and predicts he'll continue to do harm until he faces repercussions.
"The menace continues. What else is next? What are they going to wait for to get rid of him?" Sebastian asks.
Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, president of Miami's Black police union, says he was shocked to hear that Ortiz was reinstated this week. Jean-Poix initiated the complaint against Ortiz for lying about his race on promotional exams, and he has been a vocal critic of the controversial captain.
"He's a liar, he has racist tendencies, and he's a manipulator. I don't think he should come back. I think he's a bad representative for the police department," Jean-Poix tells New Times.
Jean-Poix argues there's a double standard in the police department for Ortiz and for other officers. He claims that while officers like him are reprimanded for minor infractions like failing to properly fill out a sign-in log, Ortiz continues to return to duty discipline-free following allegations of severe misconduct.
"I’ve been here for 20 years, and I've never seen this, where an individual skirts discipline over and over," Jean-Poix says.
New Times has asked the MPD for details about Ortiz's reinstatement and the status of the outside investigation, as well as more information about the FDLE investigation.