Miami’s most outspoken cop, who last week told a black city commissioner and others that he was not Hispanic, but was a black male, was suspended with pay Wednesday by the city’s police chief.
Javier Ortiz, a captain of Hispanic origin whose controversial and provocative social media posts over the years have drawn the ire of his bosses and the community and who rose to oversee the department’s SWAT operations, will be sidelined indefinitely, said Miami’s Deputy Police Chief Ronald Papier.
The captain’s suspension is “pending an investigation,” Papier said. He refused to go into detail about why exactly Ortiz, a former president of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police, was being investigated.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who was attending a mayoral conference in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, said he was informed of Ortiz’s suspension and planned to discuss it with the police chief before the end of the week.
Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes said he was saddened by Ortiz’s remarks, but that he’d do what he can to assure the captain is treated fairly. He wouldn’t guarantee Ortiz would receive the backing of the union.
“I am embarrassed and saddened by Javier’s public comments,” the union president said. “He can identify however he’d like, but I do not believe he is a black male. Ultimately, when the time comes it will be up to our members if he will receive representation.”
Ortiz sparked his latest firestorm last week during a meeting in which leaders of the city’s black police union aired grievances to city commissioners about a lack of promotions and mistreatment. At one point Stanley Jean-Poix, president of Miami’s Community Police Benevolent Association, brought up Ortiz’s rise through the ranks despite dozens of complaints filed against him and the captain twice claiming he was black on promotional exams.
When Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon, who is black, permitted Ortiz to speak, the captain began a rant in which he at one point referred to blacks as “negroes” and told Hardemon that he was aware the commissioner was “blacker than me, that’s obvious.”
“I’m a black male. Yes, I am. And I am not Hispanic,” Ortiz told the commission. Then Ortiz went on to explain the “one-drop rule,” an old racist trope that implied anyone with any degree of black ancestry, was black.
The blowback was quick.
National and international news outlets reported stories on the captain’s antics. One of the directors of a civilian police oversight board — which Ortiz had been feuding with — wrote a scathing editorial in the Miami Herald. Police Chief Jorge Colina said he was meeting with city attorneys to determine how to address the captain’s latest outburst. And the chairman of the local chapter of the NAACP called for the captain’s removal.
Ortiz, who generally responds to interview requests quickly, did not answer calls and texts Tuesday or Wednesday. His last Tweet was on Sunday.
In a post on his Twitter page last Friday, Ortiz said the controversy wasn’t “news,” adding, “It’s actually refreshing to be who you are, like an American.”
Rodney Jacobs, assistant director of the Civilian Investigative Panel, an independent agency that investigates complaints against Miami police officers, said Ortiz’s statements last week “minimizes what it means to be black.”
“By citing the ‘one-drop rule,’ and using ‘negroes’ in the same sentence as ‘I am a black man’ is the trifecta of insensitivity,” Jacobs said. “It categorically undermines and demeans the essence of black culture, existence, struggle and history in America.”
Ortiz has bashed the CIP in the past, most recently in December when board members decided to turn findings on Ortiz’s off-duty hours over to the Miami-Dade State Attorney for possible criminal investigation. In one instance, the CIP found Ortiz had worked a shift that took up more hours than in a single day. The captain said they were mistaken and that he looked forward to telling his side of the story.
Controversies surrounding his prolific social media posts have drawn the ire of city leaders and the public for years.
Four years ago, he directed his remarks at one of the world’s most famous musical superstars prior to an appearance in Miami — a move that had the city’s mayor so unnerved he said he feared Ortiz was staining the city’s image. Ortiz sent letters to police agencies around the country saying Miami police would boycott a performance by Beyonce planned at Marlins Park because she had made a video that he believed paid homage to the Black Panthers.
He posted the cellphone number on social media of a woman who videotaped a cop pulling her over and urged people to call her. He bashed the city’s highest ranking female cop at the time, who is Muslim, for not covering her heart with her hand during the Pledge of Allegiance. He called 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot and killed by Cleveland police while the child played with a toy gun, a thug. And he announced he stood in support of the Ferguson, Missouri, officer who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown — a shooting death that launched protests of unfair treatment of blacks by police around the country.
Ruben Roberts, who chairs the local chapter of the NAACP, sent a letter to the city’s mayor, commissioners and police chief Wednesday that said his organization was “deeply concerned and offended” by Ortiz’s remarks, calling them “racially and culturally insensitive, disturbing and untrue.”
“Ortiz’s behavior is a stain on the city of Miami and especially to the officers who work arduously to perform their sworn task to protect and serve in a fair and impartial way,” Roberts wrote. “The Miami-Dade branch calls for Capt. Javier Ortiz immediate dismissal for his reckless behavior as a city of Miami police officer.”