Johnny Be Good

He never did it. No way. No how.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney contends he couldn't have said, "Fuck the Cubans," on February 12 at 1:00 a.m. at a party sponsored by Ocean Drive magazine.

Since New Times reported the quote in a February 16 The Bitch column, the chief has been denying, denying, denying. "I never uttered those words," he told CBS 4 reporter Brian Andrews during a February 20 newscast. He made the same comment on NBC 6 and in letters to this newspaper, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and city commissioners. When the issue came up on Spanish-language radio station El Zol (95.7 FM), he called in to deny uttering the odious phrase. In a February 23 "chief's bulletin" to the department, he wrote, "Being an immigrant myself, putting down any ethnic group would be hypocritical.... I am not a hypocrite."

You're not a crook either, Mr. Police Chief, but methinks thou doth protest too much.

I mean, you made the comment to New Times managing editor Jean Carey — that's right, managing editor — and calendar editor Lyssa Oberkreser. They were less than three feet away from you, and sober. It was after 1:00 a.m., and there was no music to confuse the listeners. You held in your hand a highball glass containing a yellowish liquid that, to the pair, appeared to be whiskey, and you had spent hours at a party with an open bar.

This past Monday, Rolando Gutierrez, Jr., president of the Miami Police Hispanic Officers Association, called for your ouster over the incident. "The comment was in bad taste and totally uncalled for," Gutierrez says. "My position is that [Chief Timoney] should actually be fired if he made a comment such as this." (Gutierrez's letter to New Times follows this column.)

Though you've declined to return our phone calls, two things are clear to us. You, not New Times, have a motivation to lie about this. And you have a history of shading the truth and disavowing your words.

First there was that dustup during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, when you were Philly's police commissioner. Remember? You said a 33-year-old affordable housing advocate named Camilo Viveiros threw a bike at you, but then you failed to identify him at trial. He was acquitted.

Oh yeah, and then there was that little thing about the videotape. Though you claimed you had nabbed Viveiros, the tape showed the advocate being handcuffed on a sidewalk by two officers. You were nowhere in sight. "Timoney has a very strong interest in publicity," the protester told Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede.

That interest is probably why you, as the Magic City's top law enforcement officer, agreed to ride bicycles with Herald reporter Oscar Corral amid the disturbances during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in 2003. In a follow-up story about the adventure — hell, in the lead sentence — Corral quoted you as barking, "You're bad. Fuck you!" to a demonstrator who had been detained by police.

But you later denied saying, "You're bad," insisting you don't talk like that. And you couldn't recall blurting the "Fuck you" part.

The Herald stood by its story. "Timoney gave us a hard time," says a Herald reporter who did not want to be identified. "But Oscar clearly heard him say, öYou're bad. Fuck you.'"

Then we have that Ocean Drive party at the St. Regis Hotel in Bal Harbour. You, oh much respected Chiefy, were there with your assistant, Angel Calzadilla. "The chief must have spoken to at least two, three dozen people that night," Calzadilla says. "None of those conversations involved anything about Cubans."

Carey, a journalist with two decades of experience who runs this newspaper's day-to-day operations, says she and Oberkreser bumped into you just as the music stopped at 1:00 a.m. "We were standing close to the stage — about 100 feet from the door and 25 feet from a bar," she recalls. "The lights had come on, and DJ Irie announced that the party was over. The music was off. That is how they signified the party was over.

"I saw [Timoney] and said, öYou're the police chief'.... He was an arm's length away from me, about two and a half feet away. I shook his hand."

Then Carey says she asked you whether your job is "more politics than policing." Your response: "I was police chief in New York and in Philadelphia, and then I come down here, and it's all about Cuban politics.... Fuck the Cubans! I've got a job to do!"

"He was smiling when he said it," Carey says. "He didn't mean it in a malicious way...."

Is she sure that's what you said? "Absolutely."

Oberkreser, a former librarian who oversees the largest section in the newspaper, confirms the statement and says two other partygoers besides Carey and herself were there: "It wasn't in a mean way that he said it.... We all were shocked.... None of us knew what to say."

So were they inebriated? Oberkreser says she had two dirty martinis in four hours at the party. She had been drinking club soda for an hour before you made the comment. Carey, designated driver for her group, had one chocolate vodka martini in more than three hours.

Of course, we don't know how much you, Mr. Chief, had imbibed. On the radio, you said something about vodka, but you didn't return two calls seeking details. "He has a fair complexion," Carey says. "He totally had a gin blossom going on — red nose and red cheeks. He wasn't slurring his words, but the chief likes to party. I've seen him out a lot."

One mystery is that Calzadilla contends he was with you all night, while both journalists claim the assistant — who acknowledges downing two and a half vodka-and-cranberry drinks — wasn't there when you made the statement. Calzadilla, whom I've known for years, is a stand-up guy.

So who has a motivation to lie? Well, as for Calzadilla's contradictory comment, who signs his paycheck? And you manage a police force that is substantially Cuban American in a town where folks from the island are the most powerful minority. With City Manager Joe Arriola likely on his way out, you would have been a logical candidate for the job ... that is, until your improbably colorful comment.

The editors, on the other hand, had nothing to gain. "Anyone who knows my work knows city politics isn't my thing," Carey says. Ditto for Oberkreser. She was at the St. Regis to see old friends.

Comments Commissioner Tomas Regalado: "Do I believe [Timoney] said, öFuck the Cubans?' I don't know, but he does love to say bad words."

One person who doesn't believe you is Enrique Santos, the El Zol radio host who took your phone call February 17. Santos, who ran for mayor against Diaz, says you hemmed and hawed during the conversation. "He didn't convince me," Santos states. "If he didn't say it, then he would have demanded a retraction or an apology from New Times. He hasn't done that."

Adds the Hispanic Officers' Gutierrez: "If he feels this way, that's fine, but don't put it out in public.... Now I would expect the city manager to take action."

—Staff writer Francisco Alvarado reported for this column

The Rank Responds

Rolando Gutierrez, Jr., president of the Miami Police Hispanic Officers Association, penned this letter to New Times:

On Thursday, February 16, 2006, "The Bitch" reported that City of Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney was asked "whether his job is more politics than policing." He allegedly responded, "I was police chief in New York and in Philadelphia, and then I come down here, and it's all about Cuban politics.... Fuck the Cubans! I've got a job to do!"

I am a Cuban-born American citizen who has lived in Miami since 1967 and has more than 24 years in the Miami Police Department, which is composed of 83.8 percent minorities — including 54.7 percent Hispanic officers mostly of Cuban descent. I, along with many colleagues, find his statement, if in fact true, to be horribly offensive, tasteless, and nothing but mean-spirited. It is unacceptable from someone in his position. If it's true, I expect our city manager to relieve Chief Timoney and to find a suitable replacement soon thereafter. This would send a very strong message not just to the chief but also to anyone in a position of power in local government that comments such as this one will not be tolerated — whether they are directed toward the Cuban community or any other group.

As president of the Miami Police Hispanic Officers Association, I ask Chief Timoney to take the proper measures to clear his name and reputation. He has done well to publicly deny making the statement (along with his executive assistant Angel Calzadilla), but this is only the beginning.

He should leave no stone unturned. At minimum, I would expect a full and unconditional retraction of the statement from New Times along with a very strong apology to both the chief of police and the Cuban community.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse

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