By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Miami Police Capt. Javier Ortiz railroaded a former special victims unit detective by misleading her into believing she was about to be arrested for corruption, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit.
Melanie Ortiz, no relation to the captain, is suing Ortiz, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, the City of Miami and the Miami chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police for denying her due process and violating her Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. Also named as defendants are Colina’s predecessor, Rodolfo Llanes, and two Internal Affairs investigators.
She alleges Ortiz pressured her into resigning three years ago and blocked her from defending herself in connection with an Internal Affairs investigation into police officials accused of accepting illegal payments from tow truck drivers who picked up cars from accident scenes.
Her allegations indicate Ortiz, who has 18 use-of-force incidents during his 17 years on the Miami police beat but has largely avoided major punishment, enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Colina, critics claim. They allege Ortiz assists Colina in creating the perception the Miami Police Department cracks down on rogue cops in exchange for being lenient with the captain’s transgressions.
“When you look at Javi’s M.O. and how things work, he helps out Colina and Colina helps him,” Miami Police Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix told Florida Bulldog. “There is something between them.” Jean-Poix heads an organization for black officers.
In an email response to Florida Bulldog, Capt. Ortiz said the lawsuit “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
“She voluntarily resigned,” Ortiz said. “Maybe her memory is cloudy or she’s in denial since it was years ago and now she wants to sue.”
Ortiz, a state director for the Florida FOP and the Miami lodge’s past president, also scoffed at the accusation that he sells out fellow cops to gain protection for himself.
“I have represented and fought for more police officers against internal affairs than any other FOP representative currently with the department,” Ortiz said. “I protect a member’s rights.”
Ortiz attempted to reclaim the Miami lodge’s presidency, but lost a runoff election to Miami Police Sgt. Tommy Reyes earlier this month.
A Miami Police spokesman said Colina and the police department would not comment on Melanie Ortiz’s lawsuit while it’s pending.
Tommy Reyes, the FOP Miami lodge’s current president, did not respond to phone messages seeking comment. Melanie Ortiz’s attorney, William Amlong, said he could not comment at this time because he is adding a second plaintiff and amending the complaint to flesh out more allegations against Ortiz, Colina and the other defendants.
Firebrand with problematic disposition
Suspended indefinitely with pay since January of 2020, Ortiz is a Miami Police lighting rod who has drawn the ire of black officers, elected officials and African-American activists, including the NAACP, for making crude public remarks about police brutality and police-involved shootings of black people. For instance, he cavalierly dismissed the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy holding a toy gun who was shot to death by Cleveland cops in 2014. “Act like a thug and you’ll be treated like one,” Ortiz wrote on Twitter at the time, according to news reports.
Meanwhile, his career had been marred by more than three dozen citizen complaints to Miami’s Internal Affairs section since joining the city’s police department in 2004. According to a 2018 Miami New Times investigation, only six of 56 allegations of misconduct against Ortiz have been sustained — and those were for minor infractions such as improper procedure and discourtesy.
Ortiz also has been sued twice for civil rights violations. In one of those lawsuits, filed in Miami federal court, Francois Alexandre alleged Ortiz took him down and, along with two other cops, viciously beat him after he refused their orders to get off the street as he celebrated the Miami Heat’s 2013 NBA championship with a crowd in downtown Miami. The basketball fan claimed he was falsely arrested for inciting a riot and resisting arrest; both charges were dropped.
In a 2018 order mandating Ortiz and the other two officers stand trial for violating Alexandre’s Fourth Amendment rights, U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles wrote that there was no reasonable need for police to have attacked him.
“The battery was severe enough to fracture [Alexandre’s] orbital bone and to cause facial lacerations and bruising,” Gayles wrote. “The [officers’] use of force, on a non-violent man for what amounts to a misdemeanor, simply is not proportional to the need for that force.”
Despite his professional turmoil, Ortiz held on to the FOP Miami’s presidency from 2011 until 2017, when he stepped down after he was promoted to captain. His handpicked successor lost the following year to current president Tommy Reyes, who campaigned on a promise to end the cronyism during Ortiz’s reign, according to news reports.
Ortiz protected by top brass?
Yet, Ortiz continues to enjoy protection from Colina and other top brass, said Jean-Poix, who is president of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, an organization representing black rank-and-file cops but that doesn’t have bargaining power. In December 2019, Jean-Poix filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Ortiz alleging the captain had falsely written that he was black on two promotional applications he filled out in 2014 and 2017.
Shortly after Jean-Poix made a citizen’s presentation before the Miami City Commission, Ortiz told elected officials that he was a “black male, or a Negro,” under the so-called one-drop rule, a dated theory that implies a person with even a slight African ancestry should be considered black. A week later, Ortiz was suspended with pay although Colina and his administration have declined to state the exact reason for the punishment.
Jean-Poix told Florida Bulldog that he recently received a letter from Internal Affairs stating his complaint was closed without further action. “He blatantly lied about being a black male,” Jean-Poix said. “And the chief just sends us back an informational letter. Considering all the things Javi has done, he should have been fired a long time ago.”
In mid-December 2016, Melanie Ortiz was supposed to provide a statement to Internal Affairs investigators in connection with an FBI probe into tow truck operators who were accused of bribing police officers in Little Havana, a neighborhood she patrolled between 2013 and 2014, her lawsuit states. The FBI had arrested one cop and two police aides, who were subsequently convicted of accepting kickbacks from truck drivers who they called to pick up crashed cars at accident scenes. At the time, Javier Ortiz was a Miami Police lieutenant and Miami FOP president.
“Ms. Ortiz initially thought that she was being interviewed as to what she had observed others do since she had had no involvement with any kickback schemes,” the complaint states. “Lt. Ortiz was standing outside the Internal Affairs building, shirtless and wearing department-issued bicycle shorts as he leaned against his car.”
Melanie Ortiz, at the time a special victims unit detective, alleges Ortiz informed her that she would not be able to review her file before the interview, and that her only option was to immediately resign so she could “avoid going to jail and having her daughter learn about her arrest through the media.”
He allegedly typed up a memo that stated she was voluntarily submitting her irrevocable resignation and made Melanie Ortiz sign it. The letter ended with the following statement: “I am resigning for personal reasons and believe that this is the best option for myself and my family.”
The lawsuit claims Ortiz bullied three other cops to sign irrevocable, on-the-spot resignations for alleged misconduct involving the tow truck bribery scheme. Ortiz sought to short-circuit their due process, including the right to inspect all the evidence gathered against them, because he knew there was virtually no proof that Melanie Ortiz and the other officers accepted bribes, the complaint asserts.
“The purpose was to give Miamians the impression that then-Chief Llanes’s Internal Affairs unit — which reported directly to then Assistant Chief (now chief) Colina — was getting tough on crooked cops,” the lawsuit states.
In 2017, an Internal Affairs investigator admitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that it possessed no evidence against Melanie Ortiz when the state agency was reviewing her law enforcement certification for revocation, the lawsuit alleges.
“Sorry there is not much I can give you,” the investigator wrote in a Nov. 20, 2017 email to an FDLE special agent. “These were the last individuals that had involvement in the scheme but [we] didn’t have enough to go federal and without the evidence…and no recorded hand-to-hand transactions, it was not enough for the state to move on.”