Government

Miami Police Department Recommends Firing Controversial Capt. Javier Ortiz

Miami Police Department Capt. Javier Ortiz
Miami Police Department Capt. Javier Ortiz Screenshot via YouTube
Over the past two-and-a-half years, Miami Police Department (MPD) Capt. Javier Ortiz has been on the job for an aggregate total of eight months. For the other 22 months, Ortiz, one of the department's most controversial officers, has been on suspension for various investigations into his conduct, all the while being paid on the public's dime.

The erstwhile police union president has been suspended multiple times over the years, avoiding termination despite allegations of violence and racism, not to mention the many thousands of dollars he's cost the city in legal fees for lawsuits brought against him. 

But under the management of Chief Manuel Morales, MPD may finally be on the verge of firing Ortiz over a pair of alleged infractions that have more to do with internal policy than directly harming the public.

The first arises from an incident on August 10 of last year, when Ortiz followed a vehicle on his motorcycle going 100 mph on I-95 and pulled the car over on an off-ramp, forcing other drivers to go around them.

"Captain Ortiz placed himself and the driver of the offending vehicle in danger by confronting the driver on a dangerous highway and ultimately resulting in a physical confrontation with the driver," reads a written reprimand against Ortiz obtained by New Times.

According to the reprimand, MPD's Internal Affairs unit (IA) did not sustain an allegation of improper procedure against Ortiz, but a disciplinary review panel of top brass looked over the case this month and recommended he be demoted.

Ortiz's attorney, Richard Diaz, says Ortiz was within his rights to stop the motorist on the exit ramp and says he has submitted a traffic manual from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to IA to prove it.

"The police department refused to interview any of their Motors Instructors who we are confident will state the obvious," Diaz says. "Captain Ortiz performed the traffic stop per his training."

It's Ortiz's second reprimand, which originates from an administrative incident within MPD, that has the Disciplinary Review Panel recommending the controversial captain be fired.

According to the disciplinary memo, IA was told last November (a month after Ortiz was suspended for the third time in his career) that the captain had allegedly worked too many hours. IA exonerated Ortiz of the accusation, but the investigation revealed that he'd purportedly allowed sergeants under his command in the motor unit to approve one another's overtime slips without first requesting permission from his direct supervisor: then-Assistant Chief Manuel Morales.

A rundown of overtime slips included in the reprimand shows Ortiz submitted 100 hours of overtime in July 2021 alone, allowing lower-ranked officers to approve the claims. (After July 28, Ortiz began submitting overtime hours to a police major, above him in the chain of command.)

One of the sergeants who approved Ortiz's hours, Sgt. Mario Dell Amico, told investigators that he advised Ortiz when he joined the motor unit last year that overtime requests were always kept in-house and did not go up the chain.

"In his sworn witness statement, Chief Manuel Morales stated he was Captain Ortiz's direct supervisor in June and July of 2021," reads the reprimand. "He stated he (Chief Morales) should have been listed as the approving supervisor and commanding officer for any overtime slips Captain Ortiz submitted at that time."

Under MPD's departmental regulations, overtime is supposed to be approved by a commanding officer who directly supervised the overtime assignment, and employees of the same rank are not permitted to approve each other's overtime.

Auditors in 2020 found rampant issues with MPD's overtime and off-duty programs, noting that the programs were unchecked and ripe for abuse by officers who secure lucrative off-duty assignments.

Ortiz's attorney contends that the manner of overtime approval in the motor unit was signed off on by then-MPD Chief Art Acevedo, who was ousted in October. Since taking over, Morales has reversed many of the changes his predecessor made to the department.

The panel initially recommended that Ortiz be demoted for the alleged faux pas but subsequently increased the penalty. On the sixth page of the reprimand (attached at the end of this article), panel members crossed out "demotion" and replaced it with "termination," followed by their signatures.

"The Disciplinary Review Panel has been in place for several months and the members of the board made the change during their deliberation meeting as indicated by their initials next to the changes," MPD spokesperson Kenia Fallat explains in response to New Times' questions about the change.

Ortiz remains on paid suspension as a captain, as the reprimand awaits approval by Chief Morales — who some within the department believe is gunning for Ortiz at the behest of the city commission.

Last month, two IA investigators, Det. Wanda Jean Baptiste and Cmdr. Brandon Lanier, alleged corruption within Internal Affairs under Morales, claiming he was targeting Ortiz for termination on orders from City Commissioner Joe Carollo, who has feuded with Ortiz in the past.

In a statement to New Times via email in June, Morales called the two officers' accusations "meritless."

Meanwhile, Ortiz and his camp maintain his innocence and point out that the saga will continue to cost Miami residents' tax dollars one way or another.

"In the end, the citizens of Miami lose. Captain Ortiz should be working on protecting citizens instead of sitting at home," says Diaz, his attorney. "This is nothing more than a witch-hunt and an attempt to justify paying a captain to sit at home for eight months."
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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