City backs free police guards for Wynwood gallery



Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa had the authority to guard for free a private collector’s works, the city’s legal department concluded.

A week after a Wynwood gallery wrapped up a controversial $500 million art exhibition and sent it back to its owner in Portugal, the city of Miami’s legal department concluded that Police Chief Manuel Orosa had the authority to grant free police protection to the private business. In a four-page memorandum signed Monday, city attorneys said police could spend public resources to protect Gary Nader’s private gallery during the five months the exhibit was in town because it served a municipal purpose.

“No constitutional provision or enactment exists which prohibits a city from authorizing police officers to provide public services to a private art gallery,” according to the memorandum.

City Attorney Julie Bru did not respond to repeated calls from El Nuevo Herald.

City Commissioner Francis Suarez, who asked for the legal opinion, said he disagreed with the decision.

“I don’t understand the concept of protecting a multimillionaire’s gallery,” Suarez said. “It doesn’t seem a good idea to use our resources for that, especially when for 18 months we have been battling with the issue of not having enough police officers.”

Nader asked for special police protection last year before the arrival of 110 works from the private collection of his friend, José Rodrigues Berardo. Orosa said he agreed to help out because the exhibit was free and because school groups would visit.

Between 200 and 250 students visited the exhibit. According to the gallery, about 120,000 people saw the exhibit since it opened in early December, just in time for Art Basel.

Orosa disagreed with an El Nuevo Herald estimate that Nader could have been charged about $100,000 for the police protection if he had paid the $32 per hour it normally costs to hire an off-duty officer. Nader has said his “gentlemen’s agreement” with Orosa was for 24-hour-a-day protection from late November, when the artwork arrived, until last week.

But Orosa said that what Nader “asked for and what I provided were different things.” The police chief said one beat officer was asked to watch the gallery during his shifts, and that other Wynwood cops were told to pay special attention to the location during their downtime. However, during the dozen or so occasions that El Nuevo Herald reporters stopped by the gallery in recent months, there was always at least one occupied patrol car in the lot.

“That was not my intention,” said Orosa, who said he thought some officers might have misunderstood his directive.

He added that on at least four occasions, the department had to pay overtime for officers to patrol Wynwood because one of the officers assigned to the area mistakenly thought he needed to sit in Nader’s parking lot.

Still, Orosa said he has no regrets about his decision to have his officers take extra care of the gallery and its special exhibit. He feels the same way about his decision to offer special, free protection to Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez when she visited Miami earlier this month.

“If I didn’t do it and then something happened, then I’d be regretful,” he said.

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