Early voting began this week in Miami-Dade County. Because anxieties are high about election security and voter intimidation, the City of Miami called a press conference yesterday to announce that plainclothes police officers would be deployed at polling places to prevent potential harassment.
But Steve Simeonidis, chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, says he believes one of the city's officers actually committed voter intimidation this morning by walking into a polling place in full uniform, with a gun on his belt and a Trump 2020 "No More Bullshit" mask.
Here is @CityofMiami Police Officer Daniel Ubeda, in full uniform with badge and gun wearing his Trump mask inside of the polling location in government center.— Steve Simeonidis (@stevesimeonidis) October 20, 2020
This is city funded voter intimidation.
Ubeda should be suspended immediately. pic.twitter.com/TbJxu6mcem
Simeonidis photographed the officer, whom he identified as Daniel Ubeda, at the Government Center in downtown Miami, and tweeted the image shortly thereafter.
"What he did was taxpayer-funded intimidation," Simeonidis tells New Times. "Any reasonable person would be unnerved to see a man with a gun, a badge, and a Trump mask walking right by them as they're casting their ballots."
Simeonidis says anyone voting for President Donald Trump's opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, could perceive the officer's actions as a threat.
The reaction on social media was swift — dozens of people, including Miami-Dade voters, responded to Simeonidis' tweet with outrage.
"Unacceptable.... There should be no political messaging as part of our officers' uniforms," city commissioner Ken Russell tweeted.
In an interview with WIOD-AM (610) radio host Brian Mudd at 11:35 this morning, City of Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said the department was aware of the incident and would take "appropriate action."
"Obviously, this is a violation of our policy," Colina told Mudd. "You're not supposed to be campaigning for anyone [while] in uniform."
Colina said members of the department try not to take stances on political issues so members of the community don't think officers have a particular viewpoint when enforcing the law.
"This is unfortunate," Colina added. "I hope the public understands this is one person, not the policy of the department or at the direction of the department."
Tommy Reyes, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), said in a statement that the union is also aware of the photo.
"We would like to remind everyone, police officers also have First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution as well as the right to vote in uniform pursuant to Florida State Law," Reyes said in an FOP press release. "We would also like to state that the National FOP has endorsed President Donald Trump's re-election."
I have spoken to Chief Colina and we agree that the officer’s behavior is unacceptable. This was a violation of departmental policy.— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) October 20, 2020
He is under investigation and disciplinary measures will be taken.
New Times could not confirm what the officer was doing at Government Center. He may have been voting while on duty, which Colina said the department permits. Colina said the department does not have uniformed officers stationed at Government Center or any other polling place. Police may patrol the area, but they are not supposed to go within 150 feet of the polling place. But plainclothes officers may be there to make sure there is no voter intimidation, Colina said.
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust says local officials and employees have a right to engage in "political campaign activities," but they can't use their official authority to influence another person's vote.
"Political campaign activities may not involve the use of public resources in support of any political campaign or candidate, including office stationery, telephones, computers, or vehicles," the commission states on its website.
Rodney Jacobs, assistant director of the City of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, says police officers are entitled to their voice but should exercise that right with prudence.
"As a person that served as a soldier in the United States Army, I know well the voices our men and women in uniform have," Jacobs says. "But to show up in uniform making political statements is beyond the pale and violates the law. I know elected leaders, as well as the chief of police, will address this issue. It seems if allowed to go unchecked, it serves as voter intimidation and should not be tolerated."
Jacobs notes that, in addition to county ethics rules, the state prohibits certain election activities by city, county, and state employees.
According to the Florida Division of Elections' Polling Place Procedures Manual, voters are allowed to wear apparel with social or political messaging inside polling places. Poll watchers and poll workers are not. But police officers aren't allowed anywhere within a polling place unless they have permission from an election board to be there, or if they're voting themselves.
The State of Florida prohibits firearms and concealed weapons in polling places. But that rule doesn't apply to some cops, according to a Florida Attorney General's legal opinion from 1993. The opinion says a police officer who is authorized to vote by their department while on duty can carry a weapon into a polling place when voting.
Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade's deputy supervisor of elections, says the department is "aware of the issue" with the Miami police officer who was photographed by Simeonidis. She directed New Times to a tweet from the Miami Police Department calling the officers' behavior "unacceptable" and a violation of department policy.
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