New Times' Best Local Criminal-Justice and Police Stories in 2018

Illustration by Ward Sutton /

On one hand, some Miami-area law-enforcement agencies are transparently corrupt, averse to public accountability, and face virtually zero consequences when they do racist stuff. On the other hand: Some Aventura cops just went viral for dancing at the mall!

All is clearly well, good, and supernormal in Miami cop-land. Nobody is pleading guilty to framing black kids for crimes or getting arrested for allegedly waterboarding people. New Times is just staffed by really mean people who hate cops and don't think Blue Lives really Matter. We are a bunch of whiny snowflakes sitting behind keyboards criticizing the real men and women and dogs tough enough to do real work, including shooting black guys for holding screwdrivers or explaining away why cops just had to shoot totally unarmed men to death.

Now, we're going to be even whinier and meaner and list all the awful stuff we caught local cops doing this year. Good thing almost none of these people faced consequences!

1. Despite marijuana being partially decriminalized in Miami-Dade County, New Times found that pot arrests have actually increased:

In the past three years, Miami-area police have sent 5,255 people to jail for possession of less than 20 grams of pot, according to a New Times review of Miami-Dade booking data. What's worse: Most of those arrests, which cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars for arresting, transporting, and housing prisoners, could have been taken care of with a simple ticket.

“What if you took those hours and you put those into opioid arrests, which are killing people!”

Pot arrests have been rising steadily since June 2015, when Miami-Dade County commissioners agreed to allow tickets rather than jail time for possession of less than 20 grams (three-quarters of an ounce) of pot. Even more disturbing, a random review of 50 of the 5,000-plus incident reports shows arrestees are almost always men of color, and the charges are almost always dropped. About one in five of those arrested overall were people under the age of 22.

Like [arrestee Polini] Sanon, many of those taken into custody had no prior convictions. Also, like the banker, they will be stuck with pot arrests listed under their names in the public record even though charges were dropped.

"They will have to live for the rest of their lives with the collateral consequences of a drug offense, even when they're doing something that is legal in nine states," says Raymer Maguire IV, manager of the ACLU of Florida's Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform. "Even years later, when they are trying to move in and rent a new house or apartment, to apply for college or even scholarships, they'll have to say they've been arrested for drugs."

New Times' review suggests at least 15,000 hours of police time — and probably double that number if court time is included — have been wasted on those collars in the past three years.

"What if you took those hours and you put those into opioid arrests — which are killing people!" says retired Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, who five years ago championed an innovative program that allowed teens busted with small amounts of pot to receive tickets and community service instead of criminal records. "Nobody has died from an overdose of marijuana, but people are dying every day from opioids. Wouldn't it make more sense to put that kind of time into going after the stuff that's really affecting our community?

2. We kept clowning longtime shady cop and police-union boss Javier Ortiz and caught him breaking social-media policy.

Under Miami Police Department rules, cops aren't allowed to post selfies on Instagram showing them grinning next to detained, handcuffed people. The rule might seem self-evident, but in January, New Times caught Miami Police Captain Javier Ortiz — the city's former police union chief known for insulting dead children, harassing citizens online, and bragging about his long list of use-of-force complaints — taking photos of himself smiling next to suspects in handcuffs and posting those selfies on his Instagram account, JaviFOP20. Bizarrely, he was also wearing someone else's police name tag on his uniform in a different shot.

Now MPD's internal affairs unit has ruled that Ortiz indeed broke the rules by posting the photos, sustaining a single "improper procedure" violation against him. Internal affairs documents say Ortiz also violated the city's rules that could, theoretically, have led to his firing. But it's unclear whether he has been punished over the violations.

... then caught him cutting ads for an "Anti-Aging" clinic that dispenses testosterone...

BodyRx, an anti-aging clinic that offers testosterone and other hormone treatments, fills an unassuming office on the ground floor of a Coral Gables apartment complex. The lobby is pristine, with gray floors, ornate shelving, and delicate upholstery that wouldn't seem out of place in a wedding planner's office. As patients wait to be seen, a TV on the wall plays one testimonial on repeat.

"Hi, I'm Javier Ortiz, and I'm the president of the Fraternal Order of Police," the 52-second ad begins. "Part of my job responsibilities are representing our police officers when it comes health and wellness... When you are in the law enforcement field, you need to be in the best shape of your life in order to not only protect the streets, but to protect yourself."

Of course, Ortiz leaves out the most important part of his bio: The Miami Police Department captain is the most controversial police leader in South Florida history thanks to years of outlandish statements, use-of-force accusations, lawsuits, perjury accusations, and even a restraining order that briefly left him on desk duty last year.

His latest move as a slimmed-down BodyRx spokesman is no less controversial. Anti-aging clinics such as this one have exploded in popularity around Florida in the past decade, but they occupy a legal gray area in the eyes of federal and state regulators. Some critics say police should stay far away from an industry repeatedly tied to selling banned steroids and human growth hormone to athletes.

"It bothers me that a law enforcement officer would be visibly there at the door welcoming people into an anti-aging clinic," says Don Hooton, president of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, the group he founded to battle youth steroid abuse after his 17-year-old son committed suicide while taking the drugs. "These are, at their core, the same drugs that are illegal when sold on the street. Police officers should be out there combatting them and encouraging kids and adults to stay away from these drugs."

... then covered his NFL-player arrest that fell apart...

When NFL wide receiver Robby Anderson was arrested for allegedly shoving a Miami cop at Rolling Loud in May 2017, the sports world freaked out and labeled Anderson a player with "character problems."

But New Times warned the public not to rush to judgment too quickly, because the arresting officer whom Anderson allegedly shoved was none other than Javier Ortiz, Miami's outspoken former police union president, who has been repeatedly accused of perjury, lying on arrest forms, and using excessive force.

It sure looks like Ortiz has done it again: According to a close-out memo from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, prosecutors have dropped felony charges against Anderson for resisting arrest with violence. The prosecutors say they had no case because the other cops on the scene couldn't back up Ortiz's story that Anderson had shoved him first.

... then chronicled his long history of mysteriously evading Internal Affairs punishment...

Ten days before Christmas last year, Polini Sanon was arrested by notorious Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Charges were later dropped, and Sanon, who was arrested on his way home from his job at a Wells Fargo bank, later filed a complaint with Internal Affairs over Ortiz's behavior during the arrest. Among his concerns: Ortiz allegedly photographed his girlfriend's work ID.

But the investigation into Sanon's complaint was anything but thorough, which seems to be typical for the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit. Ortiz has racked up 38 citizen complaints regarding 56 different allegations of misconduct during his 14-year tenure as a City of Miami police officer, according to an IA summary obtained by New Times. Yet only six of those allegations have been sustained — five for improper procedure and one for discourtesy.

... then, ultimately, broke that his cronies finally lost a union election!

Javier Ortiz has led the City of Miami Fraternal Order of Police since 2011. In that time, he has racked up excessive-force complaints, been sued a few times, and said demonstrably racist things on social media. He has also mysteriously escaped punishment after multiple Internal Affairs investigations and nearly lost his job after he was caught harassing a police critic online. He appeared to be made from Teflon.

But after a coalition of his handpicked successors lost last week's FOP leadership elections, Ortiz's power over the police union — and, by proxy, city hall — appears to have finally taken a nosedive. Official vote tallies have not yet been released, but the FOP released a group-wide email at 4 p.m. Saturday announcing the winners. New Times obtained a copy.

3. We found out Roland Clarke, one of the ex-prison guards who locked inmate Darren Rainey inside a shower until he died, got hired as a Miami Gardens cop, and then got caught having sex on duty:

On June 23, 2012, Florida Corrections Officer Roland Clarke locked inmate Darren Rainey in a shower with scalding-hot water as punishment for defecating in his cell. Clarke and his colleagues left the schizophrenic 50-year-old, who was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession, screaming inside the shower for two hours. By the time they returned to let him out, he was dead. An autopsy revealed Rainey's body had been so badly burned that huge portions of skin were peeling off.

Clarke resigned as a prison guard in July 2014 after a Miami Herald investigation into Rainey's death raised an international outcry. Prosecutors later declined to charge the guard with a crime, though, and he quickly found work with the Miami Gardens Police Department as a patrol officer.

It didn't take long for Clarke to start breaking the rules there too.

An internal affairs (IA) file obtained by New Times shows Clarke has been investigated by his department's IA unit twice for having inappropriate relationships with women while on duty. In the first case, Clarke was suspended for five days in 2016 after investigators found he'd been visiting a woman at her house while he was on the job — though that infraction didn't stop him from being a finalist for the 2017 Miami-Dade County "Officer of the Year" award.

Now internal investigators are looking into a second, nearly identical allegation, according to emails reviewed by New Times. Audio, photos, and text messages appear to show Clarke again visiting a woman at her home while on duty and in uniform, and even having sex with her on multiple occasions.

4. City of Miami Police were nearly allowed to start using drugs before New Times broke the news:

Miami Police officers nearly just won the right to do drugs and get away with it. Last month, New Times obtained a copy of the police department's new labor contract, and its language would let cops caught doing illegal drugs keep their jobs as long as they entered rehab after failing a drug test. Many critics found the rule hypocritical because one of the police department's main jobs is to arrest people doing drugs.

Now, after New Times publicized the contract's details, the city and police union have walked back on that proposal.

5. Miami prosecutors dropped a "solved" cold-case murder without telling anybody:

In 2014, Miami-Dade County prosecutors said Rickey L. Davis was a killer. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office, working with Miami-Dade Police, announced it had determined Davis had strangled then-26-year-old Joycelean Burrows to death in Liberty City in 1986. Reporters blasted Davis' mugshot all over the press and claimed new DNA evidence had solved the case after nearly 30 years.

But last month, prosecutors quietly dropped the murder case against Davis without saying a word to the public. Davis is a free man. And his lawyer, Stephan Lopez, says Rundle's office has not yet told Davis what happened.

6. We crunched some data, and it turns out Miami-area cops keep arresting homeless people for simply sitting on milk crates:

Vernard Sands was sitting on a plastic crate at NE 79th Street and Miami Court in Little River on November 11, 2016, when a Miami Police car rolled up. The cops told the 35-year-old homeless man he was breaking the law — by illegally sitting on a crate. Then, a cop identified in police reports as Officer Mclean cuffed Sands, charged him with "unlawful use of a dairy case," a misdemeanor, and took him to jail. Sands spent the night behind bars, all because he had been sitting on a crate.

Sands' ordeal isn't uncommon. In the past three years, Miami-area police have sent at least 49 people to jail for "unlawful use of a dairy case" (AKA sitting on one), according to booking data from the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections. During that same time, 58 people were arrested for possession of a shopping cart.

Both minor charges, activists say, are used almost exclusively to hassle homeless people, who often sit on crates and use carts to carry their possessions (or on Miami Beach, to hawk coconuts). They say the arrests cost taxpayers, clog jails, and do little to ease homelessness in Miami.

"Punishing people for sitting on a milk crate is just another way Miami is criminalizing homelessness," says Jackie Azis, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida.

7. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez vetoed the creation of an independent police-oversight panel:

Miami's relatively small cadre of reporters spent the entire week struggling to cover a horrific school shooting in Parkland. The entire nation has been preoccupied with debates about gun control, politicians have spent most of the past few days reacting to news from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and typical news "beat" reporters have been shuffled around to cover the shooting news round-the-clock since Wednesday.

So what did Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez do while the public's mind was elsewhere? He vetoed the creation of an independent police-oversight panel that would have let civilians investigate complaints against Miami-Dade Police officers.

8. In what might be the wildest individual misconduct case of 2018, one cop who later arrested comedian Hannibal Buress and another cop who later got arrested for doing cocaine inside a nightclub were filmed choking a civilian inside a Miller's Ale House:

Comedian and TV star Hannibal Buress walked out of a Wynwood bar during Art Basel 2017, stepped right up to Miami Police Officer Luis Verne, and shouted "This cop is stupid as fuck" right into Verne's body camera. Though certainly confrontational, the incident was both legal and hilarious. Verne disagreed and arrested Buress on public intoxication charges that Buress called nonsense, and which prosecutors later dropped.

But it turns out that before the Buress incident, Verne had gotten into some alcohol-related trouble of his own. Miami PD's internal affairs bureau found that Verne was at a Miller's Ale House with two other off-duty cops drinking Fireball whiskey before Verne choked a patron and ran away before the cops arrived.

In fact, according to the city's Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), Verne has now repeatedly been accused of off-duty incidents "where allegations were made that he was under the influence of alcohol and had anger issues." In one January 2018 incident, an off-duty Verne allegedly rammed a Jeep into a motorist, chased down their car, whipped out a police badge, and yelled, "You don't know who you are fucking with. If you leave now, I'll forget this happened."

It's unclear whether he was disciplined for that incident.

But Verne did get whacked by his bosses for the 2017 bar fight. According to CIP and internal affairs documents New Times obtained, Verne and two other cops were drinking at a Miller's Ale House in Kendall when a witness claimed she saw a fight. Verne was with two other off-duty MPD officers that night — Brandon Carmona and Adrian Santos, who was later arrested in a separate incident after he was allegedly videotaped snorting cocaine inside the nightclub E11even while topless women danced nearby. Santos was fired in January.

Miami PD's IA department obtained a copy of Carmona's bar tab that night. It showed the three cops were drinking a combination of Fireball, Tito's Handmade Vodka, and Sierra Mist. That concoction helped grease the wheels for what allegedly happened next: Internal affairs investigators say Verne got into a heated argument with another drunk patron and wound up choking him hard enough to leave bruises.

9. We obtained footage of Miami cops allegedly breaking city law while arresting a homeless woman who later died:

In late March, Tabitha Bass woke up to find a police officer handcuffing her boyfriend, Chetwyn Archer. The lean 38-year-old brunette had been sleeping next to Archer on a dead-end corner of NW Second Avenue, a tucked-away spot where a dozen homeless Miamians live.

One cop asked Bass for identification, but she didn't have any. Then, without warning or any offer of shelter, the officer frisked Bass, cuffed her, and took her to jail. When Bass asked why she was being arrested, the officer said, "Obstructing the sidewalk."

The interaction, which was captured in body-camera footage, not only breaks the rules Miami Police are required to follow under the long-standing Pottinger legal case, but also directly contributed to Bass' death a few weeks later, advocates say, after she spent three nights in jail without proper treatment for several serious health issues.

10. We wrote about a man who has sat in a Miami-Dade jail for 13 years without being convicted of a crime:

As he turns the corner of SW 113th Place in Richmond Heights, Chuck Berriman hits the brake pedal of his red Toyota pickup and looks over his shoulder toward the place where his youngest brother died.

"That's it right there," he says, pointing toward a dilapidated beige townhouse with an overgrown lawn. "That's the house."

For the past 13 years, he's thought a lot about the night Robert was killed. How Robert ran from this home to escape the man with the shotgun. How he tried to hop a tall wooden fence in the backyard. How he failed to jump over it, and how that sealed his fate.

Witnesses say a man named Danyan Mangham killed two people that night, and to this day, no one really knows why. What began as a chill, Friday-night hangout turned into a bloodbath when Mangham picked up 12-gauge shotgun and started firing. The dozen other people he'd been drinking with scattered into bedrooms and locked the doors; when they emerged, 24-year-old Robert and another man, 26-year-old Jorge De Los Rios, were dead.

Ever since police captured Mangham three days later, Chuck Berriman has known exactly who killed his brother. There's never been any real doubt that Mangham pulled the trigger that night in 2005. Multiple witnesses were there when he fired the gun. Not even his own attorneys dispute he did it.

Yet 13 years later, the case still hasn't gone to trial. In fact, Mangham is now the longest-serving inmate at Miami-Dade's jail, a place where most defendants are in and out within a year. The delay has cost taxpayers $250,000 in legal fees.

11. We obtained footage that appears to show Miami cops chasing a motorcyclist before he crashed into a barrier, flew off an overpass, and died:

Yoinis Cruz Peña, a 29-year-old motorcyclist, died after crashing on the Rickenbacker Causeway last weekend. His wife Yailen also suffered serious injuries. The bikers who were riding with Peña that day have insisted a Miami Police officer was chasing him when the crash occurred even though MPD said it had no record of any officer pursuing a motorcycle that day. The department's union president, Ed Lugo, even spent the weekend on Twitter refuting that claim and insulting the motorcyclists.

But the bikers have now released video showing the entire riding sequence that ended with Peña's fatal crash, and the clip clearly shows an MPD cruiser chasing Peña at high speeds across the causeway right up until the accident.

The video seems to directly contradict statements from both MPD and the union and might show a violation of the department's policy on high-speed chases. MPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the video.

"I decided to let you all see a better picture (video) of what happen[ed] last Sunday," the user running the Dade County Riderz account wrote online. "From the beginning the cop was waiting for the group to leave. [It's a] high speed chase... so fast the Biker taking the video could barely keep up."

12. We obtained footage and documents that appear to show Miami-Dade cops perjuring themselves after they violently arrested a man accused of littering:

Ephraim Casado allegedly did nothing but throw a bottle from his car on March 27, 2017. According to documents and footage New Times obtained, Miami-Dade County cops responded by repeatedly punching him in the face, grinding his body into the asphalt, and painfully hoisting him into the air by his arms before arresting him on charges of "resisting an officer with violence," criminal mischief, and misdemeanor cannabis possession.

After reviewing body-camera footage from the ordeal, prosecutors dropped the case and wrote that the video evidence directly contradicted what the cops claimed had happened. MDPD detectives punched the suspect on video and later lied on their arrest affidavits, prosecutors discovered last August. But State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office never charged the officers.

"I reviewed the body-worn camera footage and was troubled by what I saw," Assistant State Attorney Natalie Pueschel wrote in an August 9 close-out memorandum clearing Casado of any wrongdoing. "It is my belief that these officers were less-than-truthful about the actual events that occurred during this incident."

Despite the clear violations detailed in the memo, MDPD spokesperson Det. Alvaro Zabaleta confirmed that the two officers involved are still active and that the department's internal affairs investigation "revealed no criminal or administrative wrongdoing; therefore, there is no disciplinary action forthcoming." Internal Affairs ruled that Pueschel's account of the events was inaccurate.

The memo from Rundle's office details what seems to be a laundry list of policy violations, if not downright violations of the law. Officers claimed that Casado refused to pull over and that when he finally stopped in front of his house, he exited the car "concealing his hands" before "committing a battery upon the detective" outside his home on NW 91st Street in West Little River.

But when prosecutors obtained the body-camera footage, the clip clearly contradicted the cops' sworn arrest affidavits. Prosecutors wrote that the footage actually shows Casado exiting his car calmly with his hands in the air and that the cops forced him out of his car at gunpoint before punching him.