December 6, 2021

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How Do Bad Cops Stay in Power? Just look at Miami. – POLITICO

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In 2009, the year that Ortiz arrested Vilma, Ortiz started to gain real political power when Miami FOP President Armando Aguilar tapped Ortiz to be the union’s vice president.

At the time, the Great Recession was deepening. Tax collections plummeted. Labor costs didn’t. So, in August 2010, the city declared a “financial urgency” under state law and cut city workers’ pay, including that of police. From his union post, Ortiz rose up as the voice of the cop on the street as many officers felt under siege.

The next year, Miami’s Black community was reeling from the police shooting deaths of seven Black men in an eight-month period. Activists and some of the families of the dead men demanded action from city commissioners during a City Hall meeting. Ortiz, in his capacity as union vice president, rose to speak and defended all of the shootings as justified.

The U.S. Department of Justice, however, disagreed.

DOJ launched an investigation into the seven deaths and pointed out that Miami police had shot at people 33 separate times during a three-year period from 2008 to 2011. The Justice Department — noting Miami police were far more likely to shoot people when compared with those in New York — called some of the shootings “unjustified,” rapped the Miami police for poor investigations and record-keeping, and placed the city under federal oversight, which ended only this year.

Throughout, Ortiz’s willingness to stand up for his colleagues was appreciated by much of the rank and file, who admired his confidence and style.

In May 2011, when a Black city commissioner demanded that Ortiz apologize for sending union members a doctored mugshot of a Black man decorated with horns, Ortiz refused to back down.

“This has nothing to do with race. This has to do with the fact that this is somebody that shot at two Miami-Dade police officers,” Ortiz told a local TV station, noting he had “absolutely no regret.”

The blog LEOAffairs, heavily used by anonymous Miami police insiders, lit up with support for Ortiz.

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p class=” story-text__paragraph”>In only three years, he ascended to the union presidency and began winning further plaudits for his aggressive advocacy. Intimidation was part of his game, and politicians were his targets. In 2014, he led a protest of plainclothes officers that resulted in some of them storming City Hall and shutting down a City Commission meeting, demanding better pay and retirement benefits.

In a scene that then-mayor Tomás Regalado now compares with the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, he and most of the city commissioners fled the chamber as the protesting officers, some of them armed, stormed the meeting. The demonstrators then went to the City Hall offices upstairs and began banging on the security glass as staffers hid or fled down a fire escape stairwell, according to then-City Manager Daniel Alfonso.

“It was just surreal,” Alfonso recalls. “There was no one there to call or keep order. I’m trying to tell these guys they’re interrupting the commission meeting.”

“Someone should call the cops,” one woman said, according to Alfonso.

“Ma’am,” he replied, “these are the cops.”

The next day, then-Chief Manuel Orosa condemned the police protesters as a “mob” who intimidated city workers.

Ortiz responded defiantly, saying police were exercising their First Amendment rights and that they wouldn’t be intimidated.

Regalado says the remark was trademark Ortiz.

“If you think about the assault on the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, before that happened, the Miami police stormed City Hall,” says Regalado, a Republican whom Trump appointed to head Radio y Television Marti, a broadcaster directed at Cuba and funded by the U.S. government. “It was crazy.”

While consolidating support among union members at home, Ortiz also cast himself into a national defender of police culture. He took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to defend officers accused of brutality in cities across the country.

He helped host a barbecue with police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the department’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown led to riots in 2014. The next year, Cleveland police shot a 12-year-old Black child, Tamir Rice, as he played with a toy gun at a park in 2015, but Ortiz called the child a “thug” on his now-deleted Twitter account. (Cleveland just settled the wrongful death case with the boy’s family for $6 million.) In 2016, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police shot dead a Black man named Alton Sterling at point-blank range as they pinned him to the ground. The killing led to a $4.5 million settlement offer from the city of Baton Rouge this year, but Ortiz at the time wrote that, “many people are afraid to say that the police officers involved in the Stirling [sic] shooting were MORE THAN JUSTIFIED.”

Those comments didn’t sit well with the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association’s members, composed mainly of Black officers and led by Sgt. Jean-Poix, who called Ortiz a “racist” and pointed to his long history of citizens’ complaints.

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