Miami Cop Says Some Officers Act Like "Organized Crime Members"

Months before since-fired Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo (above, at podium) joked that the department was run by "the Cuban Mafia," a sergeant had complained to Acevedo that officers acted like "organized crime members."
Months before since-fired Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo (above, at podium) joked that the department was run by "the Cuban Mafia," a sergeant had complained to Acevedo that officers acted like "organized crime members." Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty
Police Sgt. Edwin Gomez has been calling out corruption in the Miami Police Department (MPD) for the past seven years. Recently revealed documents indicate that months before now ex-MPD Chief Art Acevedo quipped that the department was run by the "Cuban Mafia," Gomez had complained that he'd been harassed for claiming that high-ranking personnel in the department act like "organized crime members."

Last month, Gomez filed a lawsuit in federal court against MPD Capt. Javier Ortiz, who is currently suspended with pay for the third time pending an investigation, and the City of Miami. Gomez alleges that Ortiz made his life a "living hell" by harassing him after Gomez cooperated in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation into racial discrimination claims against Ortiz.

In documents obtained by New Times — specifically, the complaint Gomez filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) more than a year ago, along with a memo he sent to Acevedo in May — Gomez outlines a pattern of alleged harassment and corruption on the part of Ortiz and others, including Acevedo's predecessor, former MPD Chief Jorge Colina.

"I know from the history of this department that providing information regarding corruption will almost certainly be met with systematic retaliation," Gomez wrote in his May memo to Acevedo. "Unfortunately, it is a certain death to a law enforcement career and what would be years of retaliation to come, but my own experiences were such that I felt a duty to cooperate.”

The troubles trace back to 2014, when Gomez and three other senior MPD members moved to impeach Ortiz from his position as Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union president for deficiencies of leadership and for bringing "both embarrassment and media scrutiny to both the union and the department" via persistent controversies and inflammatory statements on social media. The impeachment initiative was unsuccessful.

Then that same year, another MPD officer was investigated after blowing the whistle on corruption on the part of higher-ups in the department. Then-detective Luis Valdes — who had testified against his superior, Sgt. Raul Iglesias, in an FBI case that led to Iglesias' arrest and imprisonment for violating civil rights — suddenly found himself under investigation for allegedly lying on an arrest form.

Valdes, who has an ongoing lawsuit against MPD, told New Times last year that he was asked by Internal Affairs investigator Umset Ramos to meet him at a gas station outside MPD headquarters and told to sign a reprimand, though Valdes maintained his innocence. This would seem to be a violation of Florida's law enforcement bill of rights, which requires all interrogations of officers under investigation to be done within the police department's offices and to be recorded.

According to Gomez's complaint, Colina, who was the major in charge of Internal Affairs at the time, doubled down on that same violation.

"Then Internal Affairs Major Colina went so far as asking to meet me at a Starbucks near his home in Miami Lakes, to convince me to sign a reprimand and waive my due process on an investigation I could not review or challenge," Gomez writes.

Colina did not respond to a call, voicemail, and text message from New Times seeking comment last week.

The FDLE contacted Gomez in December of 2018 to interview him about a pattern of alleged racial discrimination on the part of Ortiz, particularly against Black Miami residents. FDLE used Gomez's testimony and information provided by two former sergeants, Nestor Garcia and Rolando Erwin Davis, to build a case against Ortiz, outlining the numerous instances he used excessive force against minorities and harassed private citizens. Though the U.S. Department of Justice subsequently dropped the case for lack of physical evidence, investigators noted that MPD's Internal Affairs division had allowed multiple complaints against Ortiz to fall through the cracks.

"Most of the charges against the victims were summarily dropped by Ortiz and the [MPD's Internal Affairs] investigations either exceeded the 180-day rule, or the facts of the case outlined in the investigations were different than the statements provided by the victims and witnesses," investigators wrote in a summary report.

In his EEOC complaint and memo to Acevedo, Gomez claims Ortiz learned about his cooperation with FDLE and retaliated against him, conspiring to get him fired and harassing him online while Ortiz was on paid suspension amid the FDLE investigation.

In February of 2019, Gomez was suspended for an incident of alleged insubordination that he maintained was untrue. Gomez allegedly disobeyed a direct order by a superior to arrest someone during an altercation on a boat. According to his memo, Ortiz told Internal Affairs that the FOP would not offer Gomez legal representation and he thought it was unlikely Gomez would keep his job.

The Civilian Investigative Panel, which reviews complaints of police misconduct in MPD, examined the allegations against Gomez and recommended dropping the charges because body-worn-camera footage showed he did not disobey an order. Instead, the panel recommended that Colina sustain a charge of misconduct against Ortiz for involving himself in Gomez's case by telling Gomez's superior to give him an order to have the suspects arrested while he was off-duty. Gomez returned to duty in August of 2019.

A year later, Gomez alleges, Ortiz began harassing him in an MPD chat on the messaging app Telegram.

"Captain Ortiz began to personally attack me on this site while other employees were discussing union-related issues. This was after I had already notified Internal Affairs of his comments on this site and my home address being posted online," Gomez writes.

Gomez states later in the memo that he had to move to a more secure building after his address was posted online and his name was revealed as a cooperating witness to police corruption. He also states that Ortiz posted about lawsuits involving Gomez's personal family disputes.

MPD employees, including Ortiz, acted more like "organized crime members" than civil servants, Gomez writes in his May memo to Acevedo, adding that complaints against Ortiz and top brass were often ignored.

Despite Gomez's memo to Acevedo, Ortiz remained on duty until after the city fired the chief in October after only six months on the job. Interim Chief Manny Morales placed Ortiz on paid suspension last month pending an internal investigation that sources say stems from a claim of hostile work environment.

Ortiz did not respond to questions from New Times sent through his attorney on Friday.

Gomez declined to comment but referred New Times to his attorney, Michael Pizzi.

In an emailed statement, Pizzi says his client brought his case so that other officers can expose corruption in the MPD without fear of being retaliation from within the department.

"Sgt. Gomez brought this case because he was illegally retaliated against because he reported what he considered racist and improper conduct by Captain Ortiz," Pizzi writes. "Among other things, Captain Ortiz called Gomez names, humiliated him, and otherwise made Gomez's life miserable because Gomez had the courage to tell the truth about Oritz in both private and public forums."
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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

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