An infamous Miami cop joins Ron DeSantis’ paramilitary force

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Javier Ortiz, the Miami police captain whose long history of citizen complaints alleging beatings, false arrests and harassment made him notorious in the city he swore to protect and serve, has joined Ron DeSantis’ Florida State Guard.

Ortiz, 44, joined the paramilitary organization in February, about a year after the Miami Police Department rescinded his firing on the condition that he give up his work-issued gun, work a nighttime desk job and commit to an early retirement.

As a member of the State Guard, Ortiz can now be deployed to respond to natural disasters and situations the governor deems to be emergencies, such as stopping migrants at sea or at the southern border in Texas.

Some members of the 300-member force have undergone combat training and are allowed to carry weapons and make arrests, though Ortiz is not a member of that specialized unit. A State Guard roster shows he is part of the general “Crisis Response Battalion” that responds to emergencies on the ground.

It is unclear whether he has been deployed yet. Both he and the State Guard ignored repeated questions over several weeks from the Herald/Times.

The Miami Police Department also declined to comment.

The controversial Miami cop’s association with the State Guard came to light in February, when a police report listed him as one of two guards who reported that another recruit had allegedly threatened to “blow up” Camp Blanding, the North Florida military base where they were training.

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Some who are familiar with Ortiz’s history in Miami are now questioning the judgment of State Guard leaders after learning Ortiz had joined the organization’s ranks.

“I can’t wrap my mind around how concerning this is,” Rodney Jacobs, the director of Miami’s civilian police review panel, said after learning Ortiz became a State Guard member this year. “Are they being vetted?”

Jacobs, a Democrat running to represent District 35 in the Florida Senate, is familiar with Ortiz’s history with the Miami Police Department, which was problematic enough to draw the attention of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.

A few years ago, the two agencies looked into nearly 70 complaints, including 44 citizen complaints and 18 allegations of excessive use of force. Ortiz-related complaints settled by the city cost taxpayers nearly $600,000 combined.

Investigators talked to witnesses — including former and current Miami police officers — who said Ortiz engaged in a “pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, particularly African-Americans” and that he cyber-stalked and doxxed “civilians who question his authority or file complaints against him.”

The two-year investigative report produced in 2021 by state and federal law enforcement officials did not lead to criminal charges against Ortiz. Though the report found many allegations of wrongdoing, investigators concluded “there was not enough physical evidence and not enough information within the five-year statute of limitations to pursue any criminal charges.”

“His judgment while here was questionable,” Jacobs said. “I can’t remember how many complaints he’s had since he’s been here. There have been a ton of use-of-force issues and discourtesies.”

READ MORE: Veterans quit as training, mission for DeSantis’ State Guard turn militaristic

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands with the Florida State Guard after speaking to reporters about the impact of Hurricane Idalia on Florida’s West Coast during a press conference in Perry, Florida on Wednesday, August 30, 2023. Al Diaz/
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands with the Florida State Guard after speaking to reporters about the impact of Hurricane Idalia on Florida’s West Coast during a press conference in Perry, Florida on Wednesday, August 30, 2023. Al Diaz/

Bringing Ortiz Aboard

Ortiz joined the Florida state force after graduating from a month-long boot camp in February with roughly 200 other volunteers, personnel records show. The training, based at Camp Blanding, was the State Guard’s second boot camp since being revived by the Florida Legislature at DeSantis’ behest in the summer of 2022.

The Herald/Times confirmed Ortiz’s involvement in the State Guard through public records that were released by the DeSantis administration after lawyers for the news outlet intervened.

DeSantis, who wants to build the force to 1,500 members, initially floated bringing back the State Guard — a World War II-era force decommissioned in 1947— to back-up a stretched-thin National Guard in times of crisis. Since then, he has sent members to migrant hotspots at the southern border and in the Florida Keys, and worked with lawmakers to create a specialized unit with guns and police-like responsibilities. Members can be paid a stipend based on what they do during a mission and where they travel.

READ MORE: To respond to migrants, Florida sought weapons training for special State Guard unit

Earlier this year, the State Guard’s vetting process came under scrutiny when recruits were detained for criminal and mental health issues.

The State Guard has since asked the Legislature for the authority to conduct more extensive background checks on recruits, saying volunteers would be interacting with vulnerable populations. Lawmakers agreed, and DeSantis last month signed into law a bill allowing the State Guard to do fingerprint-based checks on a person’s state and national criminal and employment records — a change that would not have affected the onboarding of Ortiz, who has no criminal convictions.

Javier Ortiz, the controversial past president of the city’s police union, is being accused of scolding and confronting an officer who filed complaints in which he’s named. C.M. GUERRERO/El Nuevo Herald File Photo
Javier Ortiz, the controversial past president of the city’s police union, is being accused of scolding and confronting an officer who filed complaints in which he’s named. C.M. GUERRERO/El Nuevo Herald File Photo

A long history

Yet Ortiz’s history with the Miami Police Department is long and controversial — and the two-year investigative report details much of it.

In one instance, the report says Ortiz pulled over a Black school teacher after she picked up her 1-year-old at her mother’s home in Liberty City. Ortiz said he stopped her because he saw her buying drugs. When she denied it, he asked her how she could afford her nearly new Dodge Charger and what she did for a living. The woman said the encounter ended with Ortiz arresting her and pressing her face into the pavement.

The FDLE report also noted that Francois Alexandre, a college student, accused Ortiz and other police officers of beating him up and breaking his eye socket while he was celebrating the Miami Heat’s second straight NBA championship in June 2013.

In a lawsuit, Ortiz was accused of placing Alexandre in a “headlock around the neck” and pushing him against a wall, according to court records. Ortiz prevailed in court, with a federal appeals court judge saying Ortiz had “qualified immunity” because he used reasonable force when he took down Alexandre and did not pile up on him or punch him like other officers allegedly did.

“When somebody like Ortiz has a track record like this, how can anyone stand up and say, ‘He works for me,’” Alexandre told the Herald at the time.

Several police chiefs tried to fire Ortiz, but their efforts were rebuffed by strong union protections. Then, in September 2022, Miami Police Chief Manny Morales fired him — but it only lasted for eight months. Ortiz was reinstated in May 2023 under an agreement that severely limited his interactions with the public and guaranteed his retirement by November 2025.

As part of the agreement, Ortiz earns more than $155,000 a year but he was stripped of a gun and a take-home car.

In addition to the citizen complaints, Ortiz has drawn headlines for making controversial racial comments.

He once called 12-year-old Tamir Rice — who was shot and killed by a Cleveland cop while playing with a toy gun — a “thug.” He flew to Ferguson, Missouri, to take part in a barbecue with police officers after civil unrest exploded there following the killing of Michael Brown, a Black man shot and killed by police. He instigated a social media battle with Beyonce over a video about police brutality and urged other Miami officers to refuse to work security details for her concert.

And at a Miami commission meeting, Ortiz once explained to the city’s lone Black commissioner that he was not Hispanic, but a Black man because of the “one-drop rule” — an old racist trope that implies anyone with a degree of Black ancestry was Black. Ortiz is a white Hispanic.

“He has a laundry list of abuses in the community,” said Ruben Sebastian, a 60 year old who was paid $65,000 by the city in a settlement after he sued Ortiz for wrongfully arresting him during a 2015 traffic stop.

Sebastian, who for years tried to hold Ortiz accountable for the 2015 traffic stop, said the State Guard should have taken citizen complaints into consideration when they welcomed him to work with a public organization.

“I believe the way he acts is not in a professional matter,” Sebastian said.

If things go wrong, he added, “the taxpayers end up paying for all the stupidity.”

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.