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Botched Javier Ortiz Investigation Exemplifies Internal Affairs' History of Incompetence and Coverups

Ten days before Christmas last year, Polini Sanon was arrested by notorious Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Charges were later dropped, and Sanon, who was arrested on his way home from his job at a Wells Fargo bank, later filed a complaint with Internal Affairs over Ortiz's behavior during the arrest. Among his concerns: Ortiz allegedly photographed his girlfriend's work ID.

But the investigation into Sanon's complaint was anything but thorough, which seems to be typical for the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit. Ortiz has racked up 38 citizen complaints regarding 56 different allegations of misconduct during his 14-year tenure as a City of Miami police officer, according to an IA summary obtained by New Times. Yet only six of those allegations have been sustained — five for improper procedure and one for discourtesy.

Ortiz did not respond to requests for comment. The Miami Police Department did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Sanon says Ortiz took a photo of his girlfriend's work ID after arresting him during a traffic stop, as seen in a recording he submitted to Internal Affairs. After handcuffing Sanon over a traffic violation, then calling a K-9 unit to come search his car, Ortiz allegedly told Sanon, "This would have all gone smoothly if you hadn't started recording, Mr. ACLU... Now you're going to jail and I'm going home after I finish my shift."

Ortiz ordered Sanon's girlfriend, Thamara Cazeau, to step out of the car, where she recorded him photographing the work ID from the University of Miami. She says he later told her, "You better be careful, because I do police work over there."

Sanon spent the night in jail for what could have been a ticket (since the City of Miami signed an agreement to start issuing civil citations for possession of small amounts of pot in February 2017). After the charges were dropped months later, Sanon filed a complaint with Internal Affairs. Audio files, video footage, and a copy of the final writeup of the investigation obtained by New Times reveal the five-month inquiry was riddled with problems: IA investigators did not review all video footage of the incident, and they misrepresented statements of several police officers on the scene that night.

Internal Affairs ultimately failed to sustain allegations of improper procedure and discourtesy against Ortiz for photographing Cazeau's work ID and his statements to Sanon and Cazeau.

Some of Ortiz's other reported misconduct includes posting selfies on Instagram with people he has handcuffed; tasing a defenseless man, then lying about it; and using his Facebook account to share photos and the cell phone number of Claudia Castillo, a woman who filmed cops speeding, then encouraging his followers to call and harass her. He also labeled 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the boy shot by Cleveland Police officers in 2014, a "thug" on Twitter.

Fifty of 56 allegations of misconduct have been written off by Internal Affairs in one way or another: IA classified eight as noncomplaints, 22 as inconclusive, five as unsupported, and three as not sustained. Two complaints were withdrawn and one was closed as "information only." In the other nine complaints, IA either cleared (seven) or exonerated (two) Ortiz.

The case of Claudia Castillo, the woman who filmed cops speeding, was one of the few complaints Internal Affairs sustained. But it also highlights how IA consistently allows investigations to drag on, letting bad cops escape repercussions. Though Castillo's claims were easily provable via screenshots of Ortiz's online posts doxxing her, it took IA ten months to conclude he had violated department policy. As a result, Ortiz was simply reprimanded for discourtesy and improper procedure, in December 2016.

In another sustained complaint, IA recently determined Ortiz was guilty of improper procedure when he repeatedly posted selfies of himself online smiling in front of handcuffed suspects. It's unlikely Ortiz will face any punishment for the violation, though. State law says cops cannot be punished if IA investigations take more than 180 days. In this case, IA waited just long enough for Ortiz to escape culpability, wrapping up the case in 192 days.

Ortiz was also suspended with pay for a month in March 2017 after Castillo filed a temporary restraining order against him. By October that year, he was promoted to captain.

Ortiz's sworn statement to IA regarding Sanon's complaint, recorded by IA and shared with New Times, directly contradicts what video footage shows. Although Ortiz contends he did not photograph Cazeau's work ID, the video shows him holding up something small in front of his cell phone in a manner consistent with taking a picture. Yet IA did not question Ortiz about what he was doing in the video.

Javier OrtizEXPAND
Javier Ortiz
Courtesy of Polini Sanon

In the final report of the investigation into Sanon's complaint, Sgt. Robert Robinson wrote: "There are no independent witnesses and/or video footage to either prove or disprove the allegation." But Sanon submitted footage, which he believes Internal Affairs failed to review.

"Do you need to review any —" Robinson asks Ortiz at one point during a recording when Ortiz cannot recall the order of events.

"No, the allegations are improper procedure and discourtesy. I was not discourteous at any time, and the improper procedure I know has to do with a cell phone, so when you ask me about that, I'll be able to tell you exactly what's going on," Ortiz said.

"Did you take out your cell phone — or do you have a cell phone that you normally carry with you while you're on patrol?" Robinson asked.

"Yes."

"At any point in time, did you take any photographs of any items on-scene?"

"No."

"Did you take any pictures in reference to identification cards?"

"No, but I did take note that she works for the University of Miami medical campus and I run police services at the University of Miami," Ortiz said.

Ortiz denied he said anything to Cazeau about working for the University of Miami. And he denied saying anything discourteous to Sanon. As the IA interview went on, Ortiz continued to contradict himself.

"He was argumentative, wanted a supervisor; I explained to him I was the supervisor," Ortiz said when asked to describe his initial encounter with Sanon.

"Any forms of complaints during the traffic stop on-scene?" Robinson asked seven minutes later.

"No, because I would have called a supervisor if they wanted to file a complaint," Ortiz said.

Not only did Robinson fail to ask Ortiz about the video footage showing him holding his phone up to an object on the scene, IA investigators consistently misrepresented sworn statements from other police officers who were present in their report.

"You said that at one point in time you saw smoke coming from the vehicle," Robinson says to rookie Officer Christopher Perales during the inquiry, according to audio taken on June 20 and obtained by New Times.

"No, I didn't say I saw smoke," Perales responds.

"You didn't say it was foggy in the vehicle?"

"No, I never said that."

"You sure?" Robinson asks.

"I'm positive," Perales said. "I never said that. I never said there was smoke."

Yet in the final writeup of the investigation — which Robinson and another officer, Rolando Padron, signed off on July 10 — Robinson wrote that Perales said in that very same sworn statement that "Mr. Sanon was uncooperative and an odor of marijuana including a fog was coming from the vehicle." In the entire 25-minute interview, Perales never once said that.

None of the four officers on-scene were wearing body cameras, a longstanding problem with Miami Police officers, despite millions of taxpayer dollars spent on the cameras and reassurances from Chief Jorge Colina that his officers would wear them.

Also in Ortiz's statement: "I didn't know if he was videotaping until actually coming to see this case," Ortiz told IA, despite acknowledging on camera that Sanon told him he was recording, and then acknowledging it again when he called Sanon "Mr. ACLU" and said things would have all gone smoothly if Sanon hadn't been filming.

Sanon is disappointed by Internal Affairs' lackadaisical investigation. "I have no faith in them," he said of the department. "Of course Ortiz is going to feel untouchable — look at everything he's already done."

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