Police

The Tangled Tale of Miami's Untouchable Police Union Boss

Javier Ortiz, former captain with the Miami Police Department
Javier Ortiz, former captain with the Miami Police Department Photo by Bill Cooke
On September 13, Miami Police Department (MPD) Chief Manuel Morales did what many had asked for but no one expected: he fired one of the department's most controversial officers, Javier Ortiz.

Ortiz had been with MPD since 2004. Over the course of his career, he received more than 50 citizen complaints, had 20 use of force incidents, and was suspended with pay three times, all the while ascending through the ranks to become an influential police captain.

Claims of abuse of power, corruption and prejudice followed the longtime police union leader for years and made him a household name in the Miami area, perhaps more so than any other MPD officer. His career survived multiple internal affairs investigations, which tended to dawdle past their completion deadlines and often yielded no disciplinary action.

Ortiz was suspended in 2020 pending a probe into current and former MPD sergeants' claims that he had "engaged in a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities." But he was back on the beat by February 2021, cementing his reputation for rebounding from serious allegations.

In the end, a seemingly innocuous investigation into purported improper overtime practices led to Ortiz's termination.

New Times has covered the officer's exploits for a decade, chronicling everything from his infamous Beyoncé boycott to the investigation into his alleged misconduct by the FBI. We've collected the stories in chronological order for easy access, so inquiring minds can trace the controversial captain's rise and fall.

2013

Ultra Fest Beatdown Allegations (February 11)
In a lawsuit against MPD (one of many involving Ortiz), Jesse Campodonico claimed that at Ultra Music Festival in 2011, the police union leader and other off-duty officers assaulted him during a dispute over him and his girlfriend being denied entry to the festival. The officers beat him, choked him, and tasered him three times when he was already on the ground, according to the lawsuit.

Claiming It Was Teen's Fault That Police Killed Him  (August 15)
After Miami Beach Police fatally wounded teenage graffiti artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez with a taser, Ortiz, who was president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, came out with a letter saying the teen victim had no one to blame but himself.

Good Cops Need Not Apply (August 22)
In a political stunt just ahead of contract negotiations with the City of Miami, Ortiz posted a video to his union's official YouTube channel telling good police candidates to stay away from MPD.

2014

Ultra Fest Settlement (April 9)
Ultra Music Festival's insurer entered into a $400,000 settlement with Jesse Campodonico arising out of the alleged assault by Ortiz and other off-duty officers.

More Cops at Festivals (April 23)
On the heels of the Ultra Fest settlement, Ortiz urged City of Miami commissioners to replace civilian security guards at the festival with Miami cops who would receive overtime pay and get to pat down festivalgoers.

Another Dead Teen to Judge (December 10)
Just before a protest in memory of tagger Israel Hernandez, police chased and hit young graffiti artist, Delbert "Demz" Rodriguez, with an unmarked squad car, leaving him with injuries that would later lead to his death. Responding to outcry over the incident, Ortiz gave a public statement saying it was the young man's fault that he died because he ran from police.

2015

Po-po Versus Pee-pee (January 9)
After the City of Miami commission voted to take away MPD's ability to investigate its own police shootings, Ortiz publicly criticized commissioners for supposedly caring more about police harassing public urinators than about the rising murder rate in the city.

Pledge of Allegiance (April 21)
Ortiz sharply criticized a Black assistant chief who did not hold a hand over her heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. Seeking to have the assistant chief removed from a commander position, he asked, "If you’re not pledging allegiance to the United States, my question is what country are you pledging allegiance to?"

Wrangling With Civilians (August 14)
A local woman shot a video of a Miami police officer beating a man in handcuffs and posted the clip to Facebook, drawing the ire of Ortiz, who harangued her online and posted screenshots from her social media.

Suggesting Dead Child is a Thug (December 30)
How does one define a "thug?" If you asked Ortiz in 2015, he might say a thug is a 12-year-old Black boy like Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by Cleveland police for carrying around a toy gun.

click to enlarge
Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz at a city commission meeting
Screenshot via City of Miami TV


2016

Doxxing Private Citizens (February 3)
In response to Claudia Castillo posting an online video of a Miami-Dade County police officer speeding on the highway, Ortiz disseminated screenshots from the woman's Facebook. He also gave out her personal phone number to encourage his followers to call her.

Boycotting Beyoncé (February 18)
While many South Florida residents were excited when Queen Bey herself announced she'd be kicking off her 2016 tour in Miami, Ortiz called for cops to boycott her Marlins Park show over a supposed  "anti-police" message in her "Formation" music video.

Hackers' Revenge (February 23)
Following Ortiz's doxxing of Claudia Castillo, activists identifying themselves as part of the hacking collective Anonymous posted what they claimed were the union chief's personal address, phone number, and astrological sign.

Sued For Alleged Wrongful Arrest (July 7)
Ruben Sebastian claimed he was injured when Ortiz and other officers arrested him on false charges of resisting law enforcement and reckless display of a firearm. The charges were eventually dropped, though Sebastian still lost his job as a security officer. In July 2016, he sued Ortiz for wrongful arrest and deprivation of his rights, claiming he was left in overly tight handcuffs for hours during the 2015 arrest.

Backpay, Please (August 18)
Ultra Music Festival sought to bar Ortiz from working the event in response to Ortiz and other officers' alleged assault of a would-be attendee. Seeing this as a loss of income, Ortiz sued the City of Miami to get backpay and return to security duty.

Miami Heat Beatdown Allegations (September 2)
In one of the more serious allegations in Ortiz's file, the union chief was accused of joining a number of Miami officers in brutally beating François Alexandre after a Miami Heat championship game. The man was left bruised and battered, with a broken eye socket.

Protest hypocrisy? (November 16)
Ortiz stated on his social media that those who protested Donald Trump's election were having a "tantrum." Critics pointed to Ortiz's own history of protest, including an incident in which he and his fellow officers stormed city hall in 2014 to protest loss of benefits.

MPD Reprimand For Doxxing (December 21)
It took ten months for MPD's Internal Affairs division to reprimand Ortiz for releasing the contact information of private citizen Claudia Castillo. Watchdogs claimed it was just a slap on the wrist.

2017

Civilian Panel Condemns Weak Reprimand (March 14)
Upon reviewing internal affairs' investigation into Ortiz over his doxxing Claudia Castillo, Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel said the department didn't do enough to punish the officer.

On Desk Duty (March 24)
Months after MPD gave Ortiz a reprimand for posting Castillo's phone number, a judge granted the woman a temporary restraining order against Ortiz for alleged stalking, prompting the police department to take him off the street.

Restraining Order Lifted (April 17)
Ortiz's 2017 suspension didn't last long. He returned to duty once a judge lifted Castillo's restraining order owing to a lack of evidence that he was stalking her.

Sunday Night Tackler (May 9)
Ortiz detained NFL player Robby Anderson after the wide receiver allegedly got into a fight with security at Rolling Loud fest. Anderson was charged with obstruction and resisting an officer, but the criminal case against him would later fall apart. It wasn't Ortiz's first arrest of an NFL player: in 2009, Ortiz yelled profanity and brandished his gun at NFL star Jonathan Vilma during a roadside stop before arresting him on false charges, according to a grievance filed by Vilma.

Anti-Needle Exchange (July 31)
Ortiz railed against the idea of a needle exchange program meant to reduce the risk of AIDS among intravenous drug users in Miami.

Promoted to Captain (October 18)
The same year that Ortiz was suspended for doxxing a private citizen, he was promoted to the rank of captain.

Union President No Longer (October 19)
After his promotion, Ortiz stepped down as president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, and appointed his friend and confidant Edward Lugo to lead in his stead. Lugo was one of the officers who, along with Ortiz, allegedly assaulted the concertgoer at Ultra Music Festival.

Lawsuit Costs City $75,000 (November 13)
The City of Miami had to dole out $75,000 in taxpayer money to lawyers in a case involving a state trooper who claimed 88 police officers — among whom was Ortiz — used a confidential vehicle registration database to access her personal information.

2018

Selfie With Arrestee (January 25)
Not one to be camera shy, Ortiz posted a selfie with a detainee in the background, raising questions regarding whether he violated MPD's policy on depicting official police business on social media.

NFL Player Charges Dropped (May 17)
Ortiz purportedly claimed that wide receiver Robby Anderson shoved him before he restrained and arrested the NFL star at Rolling Loud in 2017. The State Attorney's Office ended up dropping a felony charge against Anderson because fellow officers did not corroborate Ortiz's claims. Prosecutors later declined to pursue the remaining charge of obstruction, a misdemeanor.

Panel Finds Breach of Procedure (July 30)
The Civilian Investigative Panel found that Ortiz broke departmental procedure by not showing up for depositions in the case of Robby Anderson.

Judge Denies Backpay (August 17)
An appeals court ruled that Ortiz and his friend Edward Lugo were not entitled to backpay for years they did not work as security at Ultra Music Festival after the pair were banned from the event for allegedly assaulting a concertgoer.

Little Action From Internal Affairs (November 15)
New Times reporter Meg O'Connor chronicled how internal affairs investigations into Ortiz consistently went nowhere.

Losing Union Influence (December 10)
Ortiz's camp lost footing in the Miami Fraternal Order of Police union when brothers Tommy and Matthew Reyes were elected as president and vice president, respectively, beating out Ortiz-backed candidates.

2019

Police Harass Veteran Officer (March 11)
After retired MPD officer Nestor Garcia visited the department's internal affairs division to read up on Ortiz's case file, he received threats on a police gossip blog that his every move was being watched.

Excessive Force Case Moves Forward (March 15)
An appellate panel found that Ruben Sebastian had adequately pleaded a case for excessive force against Ortiz in connection with Sebastian's 2015 arrest. The appeals court allowed Sebastian to move forward with the lawsuit in which he claimed he had been detained on false charges and injured by excessively tight handcuffs.

Alleged Wrist-Breaking During Basel (July 22)
Melissa Lopez complained to Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel that Ortiz pushed her to the ground, causing her to break her wrist after she asked Ortiz why he was arresting her boyfriend during Miami Art Week.

UM Overtime Under Wraps (August 26)
The University of Miami refused to turn over documentation to the Civilian Investigative Panel in its inquiry into a claim that Ortiz was receiving too much overtime pay for a security job at the university.

Sebastian Settles Excessive Force Claims (October 18)
The City of Miami ended a years-long court battle by settling with former Miami-Dade County security guard Ruben Sebastian for $65,000 in his lawsuit alleging abuse at the hands of Ortiz.

Chief Manny Morales, pictured on the right receiving a 25-year service pin from the Miami Police Department, fired controversial police captain Javier Ortiz on September 13, 2022.
Photo by Miami Police Department


2020

"I'm A Black Male" (January 17)
In a move that put him in the national spotlight, Ortiz, a white-Hispanic officer, claimed during a city meeting that he was a Black man or "negro" under the "one drop rule," an antiquated racial classification system.

NAACP Disturbed By Ortiz (January 21)
After Ortiz publicly claimed he was Black, and apparently wrote as much on official documentation, the Miami-Dade chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called Ortiz's comments "downright disturbing."

Suspended Again (January 22)
In the second paid suspension of his career, Ortiz was relieved of duty following his public assertion that he is a Black man, though MPD did not give an exact reason for his suspension.

Lopez Injury Photos Released (January 25)
After further investigation by the Civilian Investigative Panel, photos were released of injuries that Melissa Lopez suffered when Ortiz allegedly pushed her to the ground.

Whistleblower Alleges Widespread Corruption (November 12)
Former MPD detective Luis Valdes sued the police department, claiming widespread corruption within its ranks, including Capt. Ortiz, whom he accused of conspiring against Valdes for calling out a crooked sergeant.

No Discipline (November 13)
Leadership from Miami's Black police union complained to internal affairs that after Ortiz claimed to be Black on official documentation to get a leg up on promotional exams, the department took no action.

Campaigning From Home (December 3)
Even a yearlong suspension couldn't keep Ortiz away from the police union. Relieved of duty since January 2020, Ortiz began a campaign to regain his spot as Miami Fraternal Order of Police president.

2021

Failed Election Bid (January 13)
Ortiz's campaign for the police union position while suspended didn't work out, as he lost his bid for the Miami Fraternal Order of Police presidency to incumbent Tommy Reyes.

$100,000 Settlement (January 27)
Yet another settlement over Ortiz's alleged misconduct cost the City of Miami big money, this time $100,000 in taxpayer dollars. The claimant was Melissa Lopez, who had accused Ortiz of knocking her to the ground and breaking her wrist during Miami Art Week.

Back on the Beat (February 22)
A year after he was suspended, Ortiz was returned to duty full-time, with his legal counsel saying he had been fully exonerated.

FBI Investigation (March 24)
As it turned out, Ortiz's 2020 suspension stemmed from an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the FBI into current and former MPD officers' complaint that Ortiz had "engaged in a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, primarily African Americans." The FBI did not pursue criminal charges against Ortiz. Meanwhile, FDLE issued a 53-page report detailing how internal affairs investigations into the officer often went nowhere because they were not completed within the 180-day allowable timeframe.

Saddled With Body Camera (July 27)
Miami's new police chief at the time, Art Acevedo, claimed Ortiz wouldn't be able to wiggle out of trouble under his watch, and assigned the controversial captain a body-worn-camera.

Whistleblower Claims (October 12)
Ortiz sought out whistleblower protections tied to his filing of a complaint regarding the MPD power couple of Ronald and Nerly Papier, which may have contributed to their temporary termination.

Third Time's a Charm? (October 21)
Having been back on the force for only a short period of time, Ortiz was suspended yet again in 2021 by interim police chief Manuel Morales.

Cop Claims MPD Leaders Act Like Crime Bosses (November 8)
Yet another veteran officer of MPD came out with complaints against Ortiz and other high-ranking members of the department. Sgt. Edwin Gomez filed a federal lawsuit claiming Ortiz harassed him and made his life "a living hell" in retaliation for his participation in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into Ortiz.

2022

Panel Recommends Termination (July 15)
In the leadup to Ortiz's firing, a panel of MPD top brass recommended terminating the captain's employment following an inquiry into claims that he had sergeants under his command sign off on his overtime sheets. The recommendation was rejected by a disciplinary review board.

Lawsuit Claims MPD Investigation Unfair (August 9)
Now backed by another police union, the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, Ortiz sued MPD for allegedly violating his rights by improperly conducting the overtime investigation.

Fired Over Overtime (September 13)
In an unexpected move, despite a disciplinary review board advising against Ortiz's termination, Chief Morales made his own choice and officially fired Ortiz, ending his 18 long years on the force. After more than a decade of allegations of abuse and misconduct, it was an investigation into overtime pay practices that brought Ortiz down. His attorney, Griska Mena, characterized the firing as politically motivated and vowed to fight to reinstate Ortiz.
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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