Throughout much of the past year, police-reform advocates in Miami have been upset with Jane Castor, the former Tampa Police chief whom the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had appointed to oversee the Miami Police Department in the wake of a scathing 2013 DOJ review that found MPD was wantonly using force against black and brown citizens. The monitoring gig was supposed to have been a full-time job for Castor — but then she announced she was joining the 2019 Tampa mayoral race. Since then, police-reform advocates within the City of Miami have accused Castor of blowing deadlines for crucial MPD monitoring reports and being difficult to reach.
The city body that works alongside Castor — Miami's Community Advisory Board (CAB) — urged the DOJ to get rid of her earlier this year. And now the feds have apparently found a replacement: MPD's new monitor is set to be Corey M. Sanders, a longtime lawyer in the DOJ's civil rights division. Sanders, who did not respond to a message from New Times this week, appeared for the first time at last night's CAB meeting.
The DOJ is technically still working to reform MPD after finding in 2013 that Miami cops had been wantonly shooting people of color and that the department had failed to hold anyone accountable.
"Between 2008 and 2011, officers intentionally shot at individuals on 33 separate occasions, three of which MPD itself found unjustified," the DOJ announced in July 2013. "The department found that a number of MPD practices, including deficient tactics, improper actions by specialized units, as well as egregious delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations, contributed to the pattern or practice of excessive force. The department's findings noted that MPD did not provide close supervision or hold individuals accountable for their actions by failing to complete thorough, objective, and timely investigations of officer-involved shootings."
The DOJ and the city then entered into a consent decree whereby a federally appointed monitor (at the time, Castor) would check on MPD regularly to ensure it was truly reforming its ways. In many instances, some things have improved. Most important, Miami cops are indeed shooting fewer people than they were before the feds intervened.
The city also set up the CAB, a board of Miami-area police-reform advocates and community members that meets monthly to discuss police-reform issues and talk about whether the department is following DOJ orders. In recent months, the CAB had grown increasingly frustrated with Castor — members said she had become harder to reach as the election drew closer. Board members also complained that she had repeatedly blown report deadlines and that many of the reports she had drafted contained vague or unclear information that sometimes made it difficult to gauge MPD's level of compliance with DOJ orders.
Things came to a head in June. At a CAB meeting June 24, critics let loose on Castor: Jeanne Baker, a veteran American Civil Liberties Union attorney, addressed the room and said she was flabbergasted that Castor had not been terminated weeks or months earlier.
Another prominent Miami civil rights attorney, Ray Taseff, addressed the room and said he could not understand how Castor had been allowed to simultaneously "monitor" MPD while also running for mayor of a major city in a different part of the state.
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'"If the monitor is failing in her responsibilities, we need a plan to replace the monitor," Taseff said. "Apparently, this monitor has been paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars? To do what? To fall short?"
The DOJ has now finally responded by appointing Sanders, a veteran lawyer who has handled civil rights investigations into multiple police departments across the nation. According to publicly available documents online, Sanders helped institute sweeping reforms at police departments in Buffalo, Albuquerque, and Newark, among other towns. For example, Sanders had a hand in the DOJ's attempts to reform the Buffalo Police Department after the DOJ in 1997 found that officers there had been pepper-spraying citizens. (The DOJ mandated strict reforms, including forcing Buffalo to videotape every time pepper spray was used in a holding cell or prison.)
In Newark, the DOJ in 2014 found that "NPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations in its stop and arrest practices, responses to individuals' exercise of their rights under the First Amendment, uses of force, and theft by officers." Similarly, the DOJ that year filed a massive case against cops in Albuquerque after finding that, from 2009 to 2012, Albuquerque cops had fatally shot 20 people. The federal government then struggled to force Albuquerque officers to change their ways — in 2016, the ABQ Free Press and HuffPost wrote that the city's police force for years had been "getting away with" flouting the DOJ's recommendations.
In Miami's case, some police critics have said they're skeptical that the department is progressing quite as sunnily as Castor claims. Her latest reports, for instance, have stated MPD's internal affairs unit and body-camera policies are in "substantial compliance" with DOJ recommendations, while critics have warned that MPD appears to still have serious issues with both.