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Miami Police Officer Who Resigned Amid Scandal Hired at FIU

Photo by Florida International University Police Department
On July 1, the Florida International University Police Department announced its hiring of longtime South Florida officer Yesid Ortiz. After FIU police chief Alexander Casas swore Ortiz in, the pair posed for a photo, shaking hands while grinning at the camera.

Though the announcement did not mention it, New Times has learned that the men have an unusual familial connection: Casas is married to Ortiz's ex-wife, Grisleem, a lieutenant in the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Grisleem married Casas and took his last name in 2012, two years after she and Ortiz ended their six-year marriage. Since the split, the former couple has maintained a parenting relationship with their two daughters per the terms of their divorce settlement.

When his wife won an officer-of-the-month award in 2014, Casas told the Kendall Gazette, "Police work is a family business with us." He noted that Grisleem's daughters' biological father — i.e., Ortiz — also worked in law enforcement.

After the university revealed that Ortiz was joining the ranks of its police department, questions arose around campus about the hiring process and whether Ortiz's familial connections prompted FIU to look the other way regarding Ortiz's history with the Miami Police Department (MPD).

An anonymous source with close ties to the university, who provided details of its employment process, tells New Times Ortiz’s hiring "should not have happened."

"[Other candidates] would have been disqualified based upon that history," says the source, who declined to reveal his identity for fear of repercussions for speaking out. "There have been other officers who were denied a job for far less."

While serving as a patrol officer on the MPD's force, Ortiz was sued in 2016 over an allegedly false arrest of a military veteran. He later received a reprimand for his purported connection to a pirate towing scheme, which prompted his resignation in May 2017.

The FIU Police Department declined to comment on the specifics of Ortiz's hiring but said in a statement that all applicants "undergo a rigorous background process in order to be hired, with no exception."

"That process includes, but is not limited to, life experience and training, educational history, criminal and credit history, previous employment information, references, medical and psychological examinations, and more," the department statement reads.

The FIU Police Department is responsible for patrolling and policing FIU's Modesto Maidique and Biscayne Bay campuses. With 56,000 students, the school is among the largest universities in the nation in terms of enrollment.

The university's nepotism policy prohibits employees from working in a supervisory role above immediate family members related by blood or marriage. The list of family members prohibited from serving as an employee's supervisor is wide-ranging but does not appear to include an ex-spouse or ex-spouse's current husband.

The university says the policy is designed to ensure "that no preferential treatment will be afforded to individuals based on relationships that may place undue or inappropriate influence on terms and conditions of employment."

As New Times previously reported, Ortiz and another officer, Reynaldo Irias, were accused of roughing up and arresting a Gulf War veteran without reasonable cause in July of 2015. In a federal lawsuit, Mario Javier Cordoba claimed he'd been standing outside his apartment building when the two officers approached and accused him of recording their interaction with a local fruit vendor. Cordoba said that after he refused to answer the officers' questions, they grabbed him, put him in handcuffs and arrested him on a charge of resisting law enforcement. The charge was later dismissed by a county court judge.

The City of Miami reportedly paid $79,000 to settle Cordoba's lawsuit in 2017. New Times was unable to determine whether the arrest and lawsuit resulted in a reprimand or other discipline.

Ortiz's professional conduct came under further scrutiny when the FBI initiated a probe into illegal towing schemes in the Miami area that involved public employees.

In April 2017, an MPD internal affairs investigation sparked by the FBI probe found that Ortiz and Irias had engaged in misconduct by giving special towing privileges to a "pirate" tow truck driver, Armando Morales. The two officers routinely communicated with Morales about roadway accidents and allowed him to show up and solicit customers at crash scenes, thereby circumventing the city's rotating system for assigning tow companies.

The FBI charged other Miami-area law enforcement personnel with bribery for allegedly accepting kickbacks from pirate tow truck drivers in similar schemes. But the internal affairs investigation didn't turn up evidence that Ortiz or Irias financially benefited from their interactions with Morales, and neither officer was implicated in the criminal cases. Instead, the two received reprimands and turned in their badges in May 2017.

The reprimand and resignation left a glaring mark on Ortiz's law enforcement record that stood to make it difficult for him to find employment as a police officer elsewhere. In a bid to clear his name, he filed a grievance against the city, alleging that he'd been pressured to resign in violation of a police union labor contract.

In his grievance, Ortiz claimed he'd been summoned into an interview room and given the choice of resigning or being fired. One superior officer told him he "would lose everything" if he didn't resign, Ortiz alleged.

According to documents obtained by New Times, the parties settled the grievance in May 2021. The city agreed to deposit $6,200 into a retirement fund on Ortiz's behalf, and the department reclassified his separation as a retirement, with no finding of misconduct. That last clause was a linchpin in the settlement, and it appears to have facilitated Ortiz's return to law enforcement this year.

Attorney John Cunill, who represented Ortiz in his employment dispute with the City of Miami, tells New Times Ortiz was honest and upfront as a client and deserves another shot at a law enforcement career.

"During my interactions with him, in the course of my representation of him, he was always upstanding, and he was always truthful with me," says Cunill, a former police officer. "He never misrepresented anything. I don't see any reason why he should not still be in law enforcement."

Ortiz's 2010 divorce settlement with his ex-wife includes child-support payments of $650 per month, which, at the time of the divorce, were scheduled to continue through November 2022, according to court records.

The FIU Police Department declined to comment on Ortiz's financial obligations, and Ortiz did not respond to a request for an interview.

According to county records, Grisleem Casas' 2022 salary at the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) is $123,930 per year. Through August 26, she has been paid a total of $187,211 — a figure that includes additional compensation such as overtime, employment benefit redemptions, and bonuses. 

Casas earned $224,711 at FIU in 2020, according to the most recent information available on Govsalaries.com, a website that tracks the salaries of public employees. The chief took the position at the university in 2011 after serving more than 20 years at the MDPD in various divisions.

FIU has not responded to New Times' request for details about Ortiz's new salary.
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Izzy Kapnick is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, covering environmental law, white-collar crime, and the healthcare industry. He has worked as a legal news reporter in South Florida since 2008.
Contact: Izzy Kapnick