The two leading candidates to be Miami police union president have a lot in common. They also couldn't be more different.
One is an openly gay progressive who prefers discussion to argument and who was a calming voice through the pandemic and the summer of 2020 police reform uprisings. The other professes to be devoutly religious but has repeatedly uttered racist and other provocative comments in public, picked political fights and been repeatedly accused of abusive tactics while making arrests.
But both are also Hispanic males with nearly two decades of policing under their belts who have already served several terms as police union president. And then there is this curious twist: Until very recently, both had been relieved of duty by the city's police chief after bizarre incidents in which their conduct came under fire.
Javier Ortiz, 43, has been suspended twice and terminated since a 2020 Miami commission meeting where he made bizarre racist comments that he was actually Black. In September, Miami Police Chief Manny Morales finally had enough, firing the 18-year veteran for what he said were "dubious" behavior patterns and for failing to "maintain a good moral character."
After he was fired, Ortiz indicated the chief would pay a price for his decision.
"You know who is bigger than Manny Morales?" Ortiz said in a text sent to a Miami Herald reporter. "The justice that will be brought down by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Praying for him."
While all that was playing out, police sergeant and Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes, 37, was sitting home serving out what would be an almost year-long suspension while investigators looked into why Reyes pulled a gun on a man he met on a dating app in Tallahassee last January.
According to police records, Reyes told investigators the man stole his wallet and attempted to blackmail him after discovering he was a Miami police officer. Then, Reyes said, the man agreed to return the wallet if Reyes took him on a shopping spree. But when he showed up at the officer's hotel, he claimed the sergeant pointed a gun at him, then contacted Tallahassee Police. No charges were filed against Reyes in Tallahassee and Miami Police cleared him of wrongdoing during his interactions with the Tallahassee man.
I call it 'abnormal central.' The volume of this stuff is incredible," said veteran Miami political watchdog Dan Ricker. "Everything in Miami is political. If there is even anything remotely sordid, it gets picked up in Miami. We're a colorful media magnet."
Miami police union elections are generally outliers, in that they tend to get a bit more public attention than most. It's one of the largest and most diverse departments in the southeast U.S., and it serves a complicated constituency. It helps that it has been run in recent years by rather colorful candidates.
For Reyes, a victory during the week-long election to represent Miami's Fraternal Order of Police that begins Dec. 13 would mean a third consecutive two-year term.
"I think I behave like a professional. Javi has not represented us well in the past. And I also think he burned a lot of bridges that would not serve our members well," Reyes said.
A win next week for Ortiz would mean a fourth term since 2011. The former captain didn't respond to texts to him or his attorney this week. But in a video message he released on Whatsapp announcing his presidential run, Ortiz said he would right injustices and help Black cops who have been mistreated by management. He also took a jab at Reyes, calling the FOP "ineffective" in representing members.
"You might as well call the FOP, the MPD [Miami Police Department]," Ortiz said. "Right now, our union is being held for ransom by the Miami Police Department."
A third, lesser-known candidate named Felix Del Rosario is also running for president. He's spent the past two years working with Reyes as vice president of FOP union Lodge 20. He's served Miami for the past 14 years working his way from patrol to detective. He describes himself as "quick thinking and able to resolve many issues."
ORTIZ FIGHTS THROUGH TERMINATION
Ortiz's three terms as president were overtly political. He was to a camera what a moth is to a flame. The fiery former SWAT director who also oversaw bomb squad units and was in charge of mounted police, K9 units and hostage negotiations, was also a loud voice on the dais during commission meetings, castigating those he perceived as adversaries and fighting for his troops.
Reyes tends to shun the spotlight and conducts most of his horse trading behind closed doors. He walked a fine line during the pandemic, urging his troops to keep safe by wearing masks and getting vaccinated. But publicly, he defended their right to do as they wished, even taking on a former chief who was considering a vaccine mandate.
Both men have negotiated contracts that have put their close to 2,000 sworn officers and retirees on more stable financial footing. Ortiz did so by recapturing some of the pension losses suffered through cutbacks during the recession of the 2000s. Reyes scored points through a recent collective bargaining agreement in which the city agreed to cap salaries after 15 years, instead of 25 - a concession that will also benefit police pensions in the long run.
Until very recently, both men were also suspended with pay as investigators probed potential questionable conduct.
For Ortiz, a former police captain, the issues go back to early in his career. A state and federal investigation into his actions as an officer was completed in April of 2021. It found "a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, particularly African-Americans." Yet he managed to avoid criminal charges.
No criminal charges were filed as most of the incidents investigated by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were beyond the statute of limitations.
Adept at weaponizing attacks on social media, he once referred to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who was shot and killed by a Cleveland officer in 2014 while playing with a toy gun, as a "thug." He urged police unions around the country to boycott working Beyonce concerts because he believed one of her videos was an anti-police message and a homage to the Black Panther counterculture movement of the 1960s. He doxxed and publicized a woman's cellphone number after she chased down an officer she believed was speeding.
Perhaps the nail in the coffin of his career came in early 2020, while talking to commissioners from a podium in City Hall, Ortiz referred to Blacks as "Negroes" and explained how he was actually Black and not Hispanic - citing an old racist trope known as the one-drop rule - to the city's only Black commissioner. The Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP demanded he be fired.
A few days later, he was suspended. A year ago and not long after the FDLE report was made public, Ortiz got his stripes back. But it didn't last long. He was suspended again earlier this year, then finally fired three months ago for a "... pattern of behavior and his failure to maintain a good moral character," said Chief Manny Morales.
Still, Ortiz continues to fight for his job. FOP union bylaws allow an officer to run for president as long as he or she hasn't exhausted all arbitration fights. Ortiz has a hearing before an arbiter set for June 12.
"I know I'm going to get my job back. I didn't do anything wrong," Ortiz said on his Whatsapp video.
REYES CLEARED OF MISCONDUCT
One issue in which Reyes chose to make his voice heard was the death of Broward Sheriff's Deputy Shannon Bennett to COVID-19 early on during the pandemic. When Davie Police Chief Dale Engle blamed the deputy's death on his homosexual lifestyle, Reyes blasted the chief and called Bennett his "friend." Engle was soon forced out and apologized for causing pain to Bennett's family and friends.
Among his achievements, Reyes said, fighting benefit and pay cuts for officers during the pandemic and securing the national FOP conference in Miami in 2025, a large event expected to draw close to 30,000 officers and family members. But what got the most public attention was a decision to use a dating app while in Tallahassee that went terribly awry.
In March, an anonymous blogger posted a Tallahassee police report about a Miami officer whose use of the Grindr dating app went sideways. The officer told police his date stole his wallet and threatened to out him if he didn't take him on a shopping spree. When the man returned, the police report said, the officer pulled a gun on him before calling police.
Reyes was suspended in Miami just a few days after the Tallahassee incident. Ten months later Chief Morales said he did nothing wrong using a personal weapon as the "victim of a felonious crime." The chief did suspend him for 20 hours - but for a technicality. The chief said the sergeant blew off a trio of pre-file conferences with the Miami-Dade State Attorney.
Now Reyes wants to put all that behind him, and just focus on his job - which he says is representing the city's more than 1,300 sworn officers and retirees in the best light possible.
"We do have some unfinished business," Reyes said this week. "But I think I've brought us to a position we haven't had in a long time. We actually have some respect as an organization by city leadership - and probably the public."