Critics: Ex-Police Union Exec Shouldn't Be Vetting Police Abuse on Independent Board

William Scarola
William Scarola screencap via City of Miami
Miami's police union president, Lt. Javier Ortiz, notoriously said he had "no regrets" after posting a woman's photos and contact information online and encouraging his Facebook followers to harass her. But when the case came before the city's independent police oversight board this March, almost everyone agreed his actions reflected poorly on the police department.

Still, Ortiz found one sympathetic ear on the Civilian Investigate Panel (CIP): William Scarola, the police union's former treasurer who served alongside Ortiz.

Since its inception in 2002, the CIP has served as a vital check on the police department's internal affairs division, which has been criticized for too readily clearing officers of wrongdoing. Under the city's code, members of the 13-person panel are supposed to represent a diverse mix of Miami residents capable of independently vetting accusations of police abuse.

But faced with a vacancy last year, Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes appointed Scarola, a former Miami Police sergeant with direct ties to many of the officers he's supposed to oversee.

"This guy is no bueno," says Danny Suarez, a former CIP member who served alongside Scarola. "The whole union connection — that’s the scariest part."

Scarola did not respond to an email from New Times seeking comment.

To serve on the CIP, members must be appointed. Miami's mayor and five commissioners each can nominate two residents, while the remaining slot is saved for the police chief's choice. Appointees can't be former Miami Police officers or even current city employees, but there's a written exception for the chief of police, who basically gets to pick whomever he wants.

Scarola retired from the Miami Police Department in February 2016 and was appointed to the CIP three months later. The ex-sergeant still uses his police union email address and remains listed on the FOP website as the union's treasurer. (An FOP secretary told New Times that the page was outdated and that Scarola is no longer serving in that capacity, but couldn't say when he'd left.)

Scarola's own disciplinary file raises further questions about his role on the board. Over the course of his 35-year career, he faced 19 citizen complaints and six use-of-force probes, records show. In the most serious incident, Scarola was placed on desk duty after being charged with battery in Broward County.

That charge resulted from an encounter August 24, 2004, when an off-duty Scarola was driving in Pembroke Pines. Eugene Davis, a special agent for the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general, said Scarola cut him off in traffic and then pushed him to the ground in a confrontation minutes later.

The Broward State Attorney's Office filed a misdemeanor battery charge against Scarola more than a year later before eventually dropping the case, saying the incident was a classic case of he-said/he-said. Internal affairs found Scarola in violation of police department policy in 2007.

To his credit, Scarola's voting record on the CIP shows he doesn't uniformly side with police facing allegations of misconduct. Though he sided with Ortiz in the March meeting, Scarola has also voted against officers accused of parking illegally, being insensitive to rape victims, and questionably writing themselves into an elderly man's will.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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