Update, January 28: The Miami City Commission voted unanimously to approve the $100,000 settlement.
The City of Miami is expected to pay out $100,000 in taxpayer money as part of a settlement agreement over yet another court case involving Miami Police Department (MPD) Capt. Javier Ortiz.
Last month, the city settled a case with Melissa Lopez, a woman who alleged that Ortiz broke her wrist during a rough arrest in December 2017. City commissioners will vote tomorrow to accept the settlement agreement and pay Lopez the full settlement amount of $100,000 for damages and attorney's fees.
After an incident during Art Basel 2017 that left her bruised and distressed, Lopez lodged complaints against Ortiz with the MPD's Internal Affairs (IA) unit and Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, an independent board that investigates police misconduct allegations. When Lopez saw Ortiz arresting her boyfriend and went to ask what was going on, she says Ortiz tackled her to the ground, broke her wrist, and subsequently arrested her for obstructing an officer.
Lopez sent the CIP photos of her bruised arm and swollen wrist, and the panel ultimately sustained the allegations of excessive force and improper procedure against Ortiz, recommending that the MPD discipline him accordingly. The MPD responded to the CIP's findings by saying the panel had insufficient evidence to prove Lopez's claims; the police department closed the investigation last March.
Lopez then sued the city and Ortiz in federal court, accusing the officer of excessive force and the city of "deliberate indifference" to Ortiz's many alleged acts of misconduct.
Ortiz's attorneys denied all of the allegations against him and claimed that any injury Lopez sustained was due to her own negligence or criminal conduct, according to court documents. The city also denied all allegations and claimed it was immune from the conduct of its employee, Ortiz.
Nevertheless, the city and Lopez's attorney, David Frankel, settled the case in mediation before a trial, and the city agreed to pay her for her damages. The settlement does not include an admission of guilt on the part of Ortiz or the city.
Frankel tells New Times the mediation went more quickly than it did in previous cases he's litigated against the city and Ortiz.
"There was a time when we would go to mediation and be in front of a judge and they'd represent him as an upstanding officer, and that rhetoric has gone by the wayside," Frankel says.
Ortiz's laundry list of misconduct allegations has cost Miami both money and credibility, as his public abuses of power have occasionally landed the city on the national stage.
The city previously had to pay a settlement of $65,000 for a case involving another client of Frankel's, Ruben Sebastian. Sebastian sued in 2016, claiming Ortiz and another officer illegally detained him during a traffic stop and then arrested him for resisting an officer. The charges against Sebastian were later dropped, but not before he lost his job as an armed security guard for Miami-Dade County.
Ortiz, who as a police captain earns a salary between $80,000 and $140,000, according to a City of Miami salary database, has been on paid suspension since January 2020. His suspension came after reports that he had lied on promotional exams by claiming that he, a white Hispanic man, was Black. During a city commission meeting, Ortiz asserted that he was a Black man on the basis of the "one-drop rule," a dated, racist idea that claims someone is considered Black if they have even the slightest bit of African ancestry. Chief Jorge Colina said Ortiz had been suspended while an outside law enforcement agency investigated the officer.
Rodney Jacobs, assistant director of the CIP, tells New Times that Lopez's case is just the latest example of Ortiz's lack of accountability costing the city.
"Not only do we see a community member who was harmed, we see the financial cost to the city that officer Ortiz has put us in," Jacobs says. "The department is still being tarnished by his action. I encourage the chief to strongly consider disciplining him."
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