Former Miami Police union chief Capt. Javier Ortiz has an uncanny knack for worming his way out of trouble. During 14 years with MPD, Ortiz has been hit with 38 citizen complaints — but only six have been sustained by Internal Affairs. He's proud of this and has bragged about his IA file on Facebook.
But Ortiz's corrupt past might soon catch up with him. On Thursday, a judge in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a scathing ruling blasting Ortiz for using excessive force in a 2015 traffic stop.
"We have no doubt that the force was objectively disproportionate and altogether gratuitous," U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote.
The decision comes from a lawsuit filed against Ortiz by 54-year-old security guard Ruben Sebastian. After Sebastian was pulled over for speeding, he contends Ortiz forcibly removed him from his car. Police found the gun Sebastian used for his job, and he was arrested for resisting an officer and reckless display of a firearm. During the traffic stop, Sebastian had his face slammed into the hood of his car and was handcuffed so tightly his hands lost circulation. The charges against him were later dismissed, and Sebastian sued Ortiz for false arrest.
Ortiz tried to get the case dismissed by claiming qualified immunity, which protects government officials from being sued while acting in their official capacity. The district court ruled Ortiz didn't qualify; he then appealed that decision.
Marcus, the appellate judge, said Sebastian was handcuffed far too tightly for Ortiz to claim he was just doing his job. The judge also said Sebastian was not a serious offender or flight risk when he was roughed up by police.
"Here, the facts as alleged in the complaint lead inescapably to the conclusion that the substantial injuries were inflicted on Sebastian in a similarly gratuitous manner, not as an incidental effect of legitimate law enforcement actions," Marcus wrote.
The judge's comments are powerful. It's worth noting Marcus is not some hippie-dippy liberal judge, but a 72-year-old white Republican appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan:
"Under the unusual facts alleged by Sebastian we have no doubt that the force was objectively disproportionate and altogether gratuitous. We do not mean to give law enforcement officers pause each time they employ handcuffs in the heat of an arrest, and only the most exceptional circumstances will permit an excessive force claim on the basis of handcuffing alone. The peculiar facts of this case, not least the reapplication of excessively tightened cuffs after Sebastian first complained and the five-hour period Sebastian spent restrained in the cuffs at the station after his arrest, cross over “the hazy border between excessive and acceptable force” such that any reasonable officer would know he had violated the Constitution."
Reached by phone, Ortiz hung up on New Times. He did not respond to a follow-up phone message.
Sebastian, on the other hand, was elated by the judge's ruling. The case can now move forward to trial.
"He's not gonna get away with it this time," Sebastian says of Ortiz. "We're just waiting for our day in court."
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