Threats turn to action in fight between Miami police and FHP
(MIAMI HERALD) In the past week someone has defaced an FHP spokesman’s patrol vehicle with feces, and a Miami cop stopped a state trooper well outside city limits for an unexplained reason, amping up the heated battle between officers in the agencies.
Tuesday night, a Miami police officer pulled over a state trooper near the Homestead extension of Florida’s Turnpike – well outside city limits, and for no apparent reason. On Saturday, a different trooper’s car was smothered with pounds of feces in the driveway of his Miami home.
Fallout from the recent, controversial trooper vs. Miami cop incident appears to have crossed the line from verbal volleying to outright vandalism. Yet missing in action amidst all the retaliatory fervor: top bosses at the Miami Police Department and the Florida Highway Patrol, who have refused to talk publicly about the escalating hostility.
Is it time for the leadership to speak out? At least one former Miami police chief thinks so.
“Both organizations need to tell their officers to chill it,” said retired Chief Kenneth Harms, adding that the credibility of law enforcement is being besmirched. “It shouldn’t have grown to this degree. The commanders, people in charge of these obligations, have absolutely the responsibility to the public to explain.”
The latest salvo in the saga occurred Tuesday when Miami Officer Thomas Vokaty, using his lights and siren, pulled the trooper over for reasons that no one will explain.
FHP spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky said Miami police would have to answer that.
Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss – still awaiting a response from Acting Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa late Wednesday – said he “won’t speculate on motives.”
A citywide roll call for all Miami police officers was scheduled for 6 a.m. Thursday.
There is no public record to refer to in the latest episode. No ticket was issued. And neither agency filled out an incident report — a decision that runs contrary to standard operating procedures and seems designed to dissuade public review, despite the fact that Miami internal affairs officers were called to the scene.
Javier Ortiz, vice president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police, shrugged off questions about the actions of Vokaty, who has been placed him on desk duty while his department investigates.
“Based on the info I’m aware of there was no action taken,’’ Ortiz said. “No use of force, no pulled gun. If there’s something or someone creating a felony or doing something that could harm public safety, [Miami officers] have the right to act.”
While police are allowed to make felony arrests outside their jurisdictions, there is no indication the trooper stopped by Vokaty had committed a felony or was endangering public safety.
Law officers appear to be handling the defacing of Trooper Joe Sanchez’s FHP vehicle with similar kid gloves. The agency chose not to report the vandalism to Miami police, who say they are not investigating either.
“We’re a law enforcement agency. We can investigate our own cases. There’s nothing more to investigate,” said Wysocky.
Sanchez, a three-term Miami commissioner who left the city in 2009 after a failed run for the mayor’s office, wouldn’t discuss the incident that took place early Saturday at his Roads neighborhood home. Wysocky, though, said, “It happened. Someone threw feces on the car.”
According to an FHP offense report, someone dumped about five gallons of human excrement – possibly pulled from port-o-potties – on Sanchez’s FHP vehicle some time between 6:45 a.m. and 10:15 a.m., when he wasn’t home.
Pictures show the driver’s side door and front windshield covered in feces. FHP summoned a private firm it uses to clear hazardous material sites to clean up the mess.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado called the situation “sad, because two agencies that are supposed to work together are becoming adversaries, and that’s a very dangerous situation.”
The tit-for-tat started Oct. 11, after state trooper Donna Jane Watts drew her gun, handcuffed, then ticketed Miami Officer Fausto Lopez for speeding on Florida’s Turnpike. Since then, Watts has faced threats and ridicule on police blogs and in emails.
One angry Miami police officer claims in a released video to have caught an FHP patrol car traveling at excessive speeds on Florida’s Turnpike. At about the same time, the tussle took an unexpected – even embarrassing twist – when a group of Hialeah cops videotaped a spoof of the Oct. 11 incident, with one of them donning a blonde, curly wig, apparently in an effort to look like Officer Watts.
Since the encounter on the south lanes of the turnpike near the Hollywood exit, events have escalated like a gathering storm.
That day, Watts, a decorated officer originally from the Pensacola region, ignored a supervisor’s order to stop chasing Lopez, eventually ticketing him for allegedly driving at 120 miles per hour. It remains unclear if she heard the order, and in a 45 minute video of the incident recorded from her vehicle, Watts is heard complaining to Lopez about Miami officers who continually speed past her in their patrol cars.
Requests by Lopez to have the handcuffs removed were ignored, even as he says to Watts he’d never handcuff her in any situation. Finally, after more than 30 minutes, another trooper reaches the scene, and Lopez is eventually released.
Watts and Lopez have remained publicly silent, though Lopez’s attorney William Matthewman denies his client was traveling at that speed and said they will fight the case in court.
The release of the video a few weeks ago created a virtual firestorm between officers of the two agencies, mostly on the Internet. The fight between the two agencies have made national headlines.
Watts’ photo has been plastered across cyberspace, one time digitally altered to include her holding a bottle of vodka.
The Hialeah officers’ attempt at slapstick could ultimately land them in hot water because the department has a social media policy, said Hialeah Police Chief Mark Overton.
“If I am able to identify them, they will be disciplined,” Overton said
Writers claiming to be Miami or retired Miami cops flooded a law enforcement blog called LEOAffairs.com threatening Watts physically and hurling vile statements at her, even about her appearance. Troopers responded in kind, often referring to Miami cops as crooks who endanger the public.
Ortiz, the FOP vice president, even issued a letter calling Watts mentally unstable, and advising officers to stop using sensitive databases loaded with personal information, which can be traced back to the users.
Miami Police believe Watts violated several unwritten rules of law enforcement, like pulling over a fellow officer for a minor infraction, drawing a weapon, and handcuffing a fellow officer.
Meanwhile, administrators maintain there’s no riff between departments; they call the interactions between agencies isolated incidents.
“There is no problem with us and the Florida Highway Patrol,” said Moss, Miami police spokesman.