Police

Controversial Miami Police Captain Javier Ortiz Fired After Years of Misconduct

Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz at a Miami City Commission meeting in 2020
Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz at a Miami City Commission meeting in 2020 Screenshot via City of Miami TV
Miami's most controversial police officer, Capt. Javier Ortiz, has been fired from the Miami Police Department (MPD).

MPD's Public Information Office confirmed to New Times that Chief Manuel Morales has terminated Ortiz in connection with alleged improper overtime approval.

"As of today, September 13, 2022, Javier Ortiz, an 18-year veteran of the Miami Police Department, has been terminated," Morales said in a statement. "Any member of the Miami Police Department who does not carry out the department’s mission is unworthy of serving the residents and stakeholders they vowed to uphold as a sworn member of the police department."

A panel of MPD top brass had recently recommended that Ortiz be fired because he had sergeants under his command approving his overtime, but a disciplinary review board voted unanimously to exonerate Ortiz.

Asked by New Times earlier this month for a comment on the disciplinary review board's vote, Morales responded via email saying he did not consider the matter to be closed and that he'd be the one to make the final decision on the captain's fate.

"These are only recommendations to the Chief of Police. I have to take a look now at the facts and the evidence. I'll also take into consideration the history of the officer involved and make a determination, as the final decision lies with me," Morales said in the emailed statement.

He has now clarified that assertion, opting to fire the former police union president despite the board's recommendation.

Griska Mena, an attorney for the South Florida Police Benevolent Association who is representing Ortiz, says the ousted captain intends to dispute the termination.

"It's incredible that five staff members exonerated him and recommended the discipline be rescinded but today he gets fired," the police union lawyer tells New Times.

One thing absolutely seems incredible: that an officer with a work history as ignominious as Ortiz's would be brought down by a career-ending case of inappropriately approved overtime.

Javier Ortiz has one of the fattest files of civilian complaints against an officer in the entire department, with more than 50 allegations of inappropriate conduct since his hiring in March of 2004, ranging from abusive treatment to breach of department procedure to excessive force against citizens that in some cases led to serious injury.

A Litany of Lawsuits

The earliest citizen complaint in Ortiz's file was an allegation of discourtesy in December 2007. The internal Affairs (IA) division issued a finding of "inconclusive." The first substantiated complaint came four years later, when IA found Ortiz guilty of improper procedure. (The division cleared Ortiz of an allegation of misconduct stemming from that same complaint.)

In 2016, Ortiz was sued by François Alexandre over an altercation during the celebration that followed the Miami Heat's 2013 NBA championship title, in which he claimed Ortiz and other officers clotheslined him and tackled him to the ground before beating him and breaking his orbital bone.

Later in 2016, Ruben Sebastian, a former Miami-Dade County security guard, sued Ortiz in federal court, claiming Ortiz injured him by keeping him in handcuffs that were too tight for hours after he was detained during a traffic stop. Charges against Sebastian in connection with the incident were dropped, but he nevertheless lost his job as a security guard.

In 2019, the City of Miami settled with Sebastian for $65,000.

Other lawsuits from civilians claiming similar stories of injury and improper arrests at the hands of Ortiz have cumulatively cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Controversy followed Ortiz throughout his tenure as president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the police union that bargains with the city over the department's labor contract and defends officers under investigation for misconduct. While Ortiz served as union president from 2011 to 2017, he was accused of harassing citizens, posting detractors' personal information on social media, and making insensitive statements about young men who'd been killed by police.

In January 2020, Ortiz made national headlines when he claimed at a City of Miami Commission meeting that he was a "Black male, or a Negro" owing to the archaic racist principle known as the "one-drop rule," which suggests that if one has the slightest bit of African ancestry, they can be considered Black.

Leadership from the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association alleged that Ortiz, who is white-Hispanic and has faced numerous complaints of racist conduct against the Black community, was trying to classify himself as Black to get a leg up on promotional exams because the department needed to promote more Black officers.

During Ortiz's long suspension after his racial claim, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the FBI launched an investigation into allegations by a group of senior MPD officers and retirees who claimed Ortiz had "engaged in a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, primarily African-Americans." The complainants also alleged that Ortiz was shown favoritism by MPD's internal affairs division, which repeatedly took no action against him over civilian grievances.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division ultimately advised the U.S. Attorney's Office to throw out the FBI's case against Ortiz owing to a lack of evidence that fell within the five-year statute of limitations.

Multiple Calls for Termination

Ortiz's firing follows years of calls for his termination by law enforcement watchdogs. The Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), a civilian board of watchdogs that reviews citizen complaints against MPD officers, wrote a letter to then-MPD Chief Art Acevedo in 2021 asserting that Ortiz's pattern of misconduct must not be allowed to go unchecked.

Rodney Jacobs, interim executive director of the CIP, says Ortiz's firing is a step in the right direction for Chief Manuel Morales to make good on his promises to the community.

"The [CIP] has constantly worked with the police department, state department equivalents, and local law agencies over the course of ten years to ensure this tragic misconduct pattern of practice is highlighted, noted, and investigated," Jacobs tells New Times. "It is my opinion that the efforts of our panel, and the current key discretion of our police leadership, have made this step toward accountability possible."
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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