Police

Miami Police Union Sues Miami Police Department

Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz
Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz Screenshot via City of Miami TV
When Miami Police Department (MPD) officials recommended firing Capt. Javier Ortiz last month, his attorney said the move would end up costing taxpayers more money.

He was right.

In the past week, attorneys with a prominent police union filed two lawsuits against the MPD in Miami-Dade County circuit court, alleging department leaders violated Florida law on officers' rights, and they tell New Times more complaints are on the way.

"We have five complaints pending right now dealing with four individuals who allege violations of the [Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights]," Griska Mena, an attorney with the South Florida Police Benevolent Association (SFPBA), tells New Times. "The city is not abiding by the statutes."

The Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights is a set of provisions laid out in Florida Statute 112.532 that protect police and correctional officers in the event they are investigated for alleged misconduct.

The first two complaints filed against the department last week are on behalf of Javier Ortiz.

Those complaints redact the name of the complaining officer, and Mena told New Times she could neither confirm nor deny the identity of her clients owing to their right to confidentiality. But the facts alleged in the complaint coincide with New Times' previous reporting on the most recent MPD investigations into Ortiz for allowing his subordinates to sign off on his overtime requests and for stopping a speeding motorist on a highway exit ramp in an alleged violation of departmental policy. Disciplinary documents attached to both court complaints also match reprimands against Ortiz obtained by New Times.

In a reprimand memo related to the improper overtime allegation, top MPD officials recommended terminating the controversial captain.

Ortiz's new complaints allege that the MPD violated Ortiz's rights by allowing its internal investigations to exceed 180 days (a required expiration window under the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights) and note that MPD Chief Manuel "Manny" Morales declined a request from Ortiz's attorney to convene a panel to review the department's investigation for impropriety.

In both complaints, Ortiz seeks a declaratory judgment ordering the department to undertake the requested review.

The MPD says its inquiry into Ortiz's alleged improper overtime began on October 27, 2021, 16 days after Morales became interim chief in the wake of former Chief Art Acevedo's ouster. But according to one of Ortiz's court complaints (attached to the end of this article), the investigation must have started a month earlier, after a Miami City Commission meeting on September 27 during which Commissioner Joe Carollo complained about Ortiz in the presence of then-Assistant Chief Morales and other top brass.

Ortiz received an "intent to discipline" notice based on the allegations on April 20, 2022. If the inquiry began on September 27, then the investigation would have exceeded its expiration date by 25 days.

Mena says three complaints from other MPD officers are in the filing queue on the circuit court's online docket this week, each alleging similar statutory violations during internal investigations.

Records show that when Mena sought to have a compliance review board determine whether Ortiz's and her other clients' rights were violated, Chief Morales denied the request.

"Dear Ms. Mena, [after] review and consideration of your correspondence dated July 19, 2022, your request for a compliance review panel in this matter is denied," Morales replied to Mena in a July 20 email attached to the complaint.

Mena says Morales sent identical emails to her regarding her four other complaints (one from Ortiz relating to the traffic stop, the remainder from three unidentified officers).

"I find it very hard to believe the chief had time to review all the specifics of our allegations in less than 24 hours. We're now asking that the court order the department to have these hearings to determine whether or not our clients' rights were violated," Mena says.

Reached by New Times on Monday, the MPD declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Ortiz is no stranger to lawsuits, having cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil proceedings stemming from allegations of abuse of power and excessive force against citizens. Last year, Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators found that the majority of complaints from citizens against Ortiz have been dropped or allowed to expire without action after 180 days.

Mena says the new SFPBA complaints are not limited to one officer's conduct but seek to strike at what the union views as unfair internal investigations.

"These four individuals are not alike in any shape or form, but they are all suffering from the same bad practice," she says. "There’s a lot of very good officers in this department and we want to make sure that if they're gonna be investigated, they get investigated fairly."
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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