Miami Police Oversight Board Says Federal Monitor Should Be Fired and Replaced

As it stands, Jane Castor currently has two full-time jobs in two different cities: She's the Miami Police Department's federal oversight monitor and she's now the mayor of Tampa, a city of almost 400,000 people. Even before Castor won the Tampa mayoral race in March, some Miami officials weren't all that happy with her performance here — and now a police-oversight board has formally asked to fire Castor from her position as federal monitor.

In 2013, the Miami Police Department reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, after the DOJ's Civil Rights Division lambasted the city for shooting too many people of color. Since then, Castor — Tampa's former police chief — has been in charge of monitoring MPD's progress. The DOJ settlement also set up a panel called the Community Advisory Board (CAB), which meets monthly to keep tabs on MPD's training and anti-brutality initiatives. The Miami Herald has reported that CAB members have previously complained that Castor failed to file regular paperwork that the board uses to assess MPD's performance.

At last night's meeting, CAB members stated they are missing Castor's last three scheduled reports. Some CAB members said they were unsure whether Castor planned to file them at all now that she's also Tampa's mayor. Other board members noted it has become harder to get in touch with her since she's taken the new job. For roughly two hours last night, city residents and activists argued that Castor needs to be replaced with someone who will be more involved, or with representatives from the DOJ itself.

"I don't know why [the termination process] hasn't been happening already," Jeanne Baker, a longtime lawyer with the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, told MPD legal adviser George Wysong at last night's meeting. "It has to be done."

CAB members and city officials both said they were unsure whether Castor planned to resign voluntarily from her DOJ position or whether the city would have to force her out.

While MPD certainly has cleaned up its act compared to where it was in 2013 — shootings by police are way down compared to the last decade, for example — few would argue the department is operating perfectly. Misconduct videos are still fairly common. (An MPD cop, Mario Figueroa, was charged with assault last year for trying to kick a suspect in the head on video, but was ultimately acquitted.) The city's Civilian Investigative Panel, a different oversight body, says MPD cops routinely fail to use their body-worn cameras correctly. And until recently, the department was still arresting low-level marijuana offenders en masse even though cannabis is decriminalized in Miami-Dade County. Most of those arrested were black and Latino, despite the fact that statistics show rates of drug use are roughly equal among all races. As of last year, Miami PD also had a massive backlog of untested rape kits, and its crime clearance rates remain shockingly low. And the department still does not appear to be clearing Internal Affairs cases in a timely fashion — something the federal government demanded MPD fix back in 2013.

The DOJ monitoring agreement ends in 2020, although the city and federal government can agree to extend the oversight period. After winning the Tampa mayor's race, Castor in April told the Herald she was asking the DOJ to cut the settlement short a year early. (Miami PD also wants to exit the settlement as soon as possible.) This sparked outrage among some community leaders, who argue MPD has not substantially changed its culture or training protocols since 2013 and, if anything, may need DOJ monitoring for an even longer period. In May, the DOJ told the Herald it had no desire to end the oversight agreement early.
click to enlarge Longtime Florida ACLU lawyer Jeanne Baker speaks in front of the Miami Community Advisory Board. - JERRY IANNELLI
Longtime Florida ACLU lawyer Jeanne Baker speaks in front of the Miami Community Advisory Board.
Jerry Iannelli
At last night's meeting, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez spoke briefly after arriving roughly 20 minutes late. With his hair gelled to a near helmet-like consistency, he stood in front of the dais and offered vague but enthusiastic praise for his department. (At one point, he claimed the department had not shot anyone since the monitoring agreement took effect, but he was swiftly corrected by Deputy Chief Ronald Papier, who said MPD still shoots an average of two people per year.) Ultimately though, Suarez said he'd abide by the DOJ's recommendations and would remain in the agreement.

Another attendee, longtime civil rights attorney Ray Taseff, then lambasted the city for not swiftly coming up with a concrete plan to replace Castor.

"We need to hear a specific plan as to what’s taking place, and what’s already in place, to address problems raised weeks ago," Taseff said. "If the monitor is failing in her responsibilities, we need a plan to replace the monitor. Apparently this monitor has been paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars? To do what? To fall short?" (Suarez then said he'd speak to the city manager about what to do next.)

Furthermore, a small group of aggrieved Tampa residents drove four hours to attend the CAB meeting. Joshua Statton, one Tampa resident who came to Miami as part of an anti-Castor group called Florida for Transparency, asked whether the City of Miami could find a way to get back the money it paid Castor in salary.

"Did she tell you before she took the job that she also planned to run for mayor of Tampa?" Statton asked.

As of May, the city had paid Castor $154,400, according to the Herald.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.