Government

Controversial Miami Cop Assigned Body Camera; Career May Come to a "Screeching Halt"

Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz and Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo
Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz and Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo Photos via YouTube, Miami Police Department
When the Miami Police Department's new chief, Art Acevedo, arrived in April, he promised to purge the department of bad cops. Now three months into his tenure, Acevedo says he's keeping a close eye on one of Miami's most problematic police officers, Capt. Javier Ortiz.

"He's not a cat," Acevedo tells New Times, referring to the myth that a feline has nine lives. "Sooner or later there's gonna be something that will stick, and his career is going to come to a screeching halt."

That statement alone is a revolutionary departure from Acevedo's predecessors, who averted their gaze while Ortiz racked up 58 citizens' complaints regarding offenses ranging from abuse of force to discourtesy to the public. In his 17 years as a Miami cop, the onetime police union chief has been at the center of numerous embarrassing media snafus, has been suspended from duty twice, and has cost the City of Miami thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal settlements. Yet Ortiz always bounced back with catlike agility.

Despite a continuous pattern of abuse allegations and behavior detrimental to the police department, Ortiz has always seemed to fail upward: He was promoted from lieutenant to captain after he returned from a monthlong suspension that followed a restraining order granted to a woman he doxxed online. For years until he was unseated in 2018, Ortiz led the MPD's Fraternal Order of Police, and enjoyed political privilege from his position. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez even praised the former union leader for his work at Ultra Music Festival, despite Ultra having had to pay a $400,000 settlement to the man Ortiz and three other officers allegedly beat, choked and Tasered at the concert. 

Last week, Ortiz appeared on Fox News alongside Sean Hannity and Mayor Suarez at a Cuban solidarity protest, giving local documentarian and political critic Billy Corben the impetus to recount the lawman's disreputable history in a lengthy Twitter thread. The MPD has earned a reputation for protecting its own, and for years former police chiefs have had little to say about Ortiz, or about reckoning with his voluminous catalog of complaints: When Ortiz was promoted after being accused of doxxing and stalking a woman in 2017, former MPD Chief Rodolfo Llanes did not respond to New Times' request for comment. Llanes' successor, Jorge Colina, also didn't respond to New Times when asked in 2020 the exact reason for Ortiz's suspension after he falsely claimed to the City of Miami commission that he is Black. When Ortiz returned to duty following a yearlong suspension with pay in February, another request to Colina for comment from New Times went unanswered.

Ortiz's most recent suspension was due to an extensive investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into a spate of civil rights violations against the officer. Most had to do with excessive use of force: In 2011, Ortiz allegedly participated in the beating, choking and Tasering of a festival-goer at Ultra Music Festival. In 2015, he roughed up and arrested a man, Ruben Sebastian, during a traffic stop (allegedly costing him his job and injury from excessively tight handcuffs). In 2016, he doxxed a woman named Claudia Castillo who had stopped and filmed a Miami-Dade Police officer she saw speeding on the Palmetto Expressway, leading to a restraining order filed against Ortiz. In 2017, Ortiz also allegedly knocked another woman, Melissa Lopez, to the ground and broke her wrist.

Though no charges were brought against Ortiz and the FDLE issued no determination, investigators noted that IA investigations into the captain were often allowed to expire and that MPD investigators' accounts of certain events contradicted witness statements. The Department of Justice determined there was not enough physical evidence to criminally charge Ortiz, and information gathered from interviews extended beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

Acevedo, in a tectonic shift from tradition, has been open about his willingness to fire bad cops and recently sent shockwaves through the police department by firing Deputy Chief Ronald Papier and his wife, Cmdr. Nerly Papier, following an investigation into a coverup following a police vehicle crash.

This month, the Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), which reviews reports of police misconduct, sent a signed letter to Acevedo outlining Ortiz's most high-profile allegations of misconduct, urging the chief to take action.

"It gives the CIP no pleasure in writing you this letter upon your arrival in Miami. But, in the past few months, the CIP has heard a new case each month detailing alleged misconduct by Captain Ortiz. This trend, if left unchecked, can create lasting and damaging cultural issues within MPD and the community," the panel members wrote in their July 14 letter, a copy of which is attached at the end of this article.

Acevedo tells New Times that when he arrived in April, he reviewed Ortiz's record and asked legal counsel if it contained anything they could act on. Ortiz's alleged cases of misconduct all occurred prior to Acevedo's tenure, and Ortiz was removed from his suspension only two months before the new chief took office.

Still, Acevedo says, he will literally be keeping a close eye on Ortiz. He says Ortiz was recently assigned a body-worn-camera, something other officers at his rank are not normally made to wear, and was placed in charge of MPD's motor unit. Should any instances of misconduct or abuse of power be caught on Ortiz's camera, it would be easier to make a case for his firing.

"Capt. Ortiz volunteered to have a body-worn camera assigned to him and now has one that he's required to have with him on any assignment, be it [on- or off-duty]," Acevedo elaborates. "What it better be capturing is him being a captain and actually adhering to policies and procedures, and obviously the law."

Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, president of Miami's Black police union and a frequent Ortiz critic, tells New Times that although he doesn't yet know Acevedo well, he believes the chief will be true to his word and hold Ortiz accountable should he slip up again.

"With his track record, from what I'm seeing now, it looks like [Acevedo] will do right thing. I'll give him the benefit of doubt," Jean-Poix says. "Look what he did with [Ronald Papier]. Given the opportunity, he may fire Ortiz. I believe his actions have shown that he would fire him."

Jean-Poix doesn't think it will take long for a new allegation of abuse to come out about Ortiz, given prior events.

"Ortiz can't help himself. He's gonna find a way to get in trouble down the line," Jean-Poix predicts. "A reasonable person would change and learn from their mistakes, but I don't see him as that person — he's been so entitled for so long."

For police watchdogs on the CIP, it's now a waiting game to see how things play out — and whether Acevedo will act if circumstances dictate.

"It is not my position to have faith or not have faith in the City of Miami Police Chief. My role is to be an impartial and unbiased executive, on complaints before our body," Rodney Jacobs, Jr., assistant director for the CIP, tells New Times. "Chiefs will come and chiefs will go. My sole responsibility is to uphold the mission, charter, and vision of the Civilian Investigative Panel."
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos