It all started when a woman chased a Miami-Dade cop she said was speeding in the middle of the day for miles along the county’s busiest highways. When the cop stopped, the cellphone video she made of the encounter went viral.
Sound crazy? Not compared to what happened next.
The head of Miami’s police union — which doesn’t even represent the cop — began blasting the woman on Twitter and Facebook. He called Claudia Castillo a “#COPHater.” He posted a picture of her drinking a beer while steering a boat.
He posted Castillo’s business card and told people to call her at work and on her cellphone. He told police to be “aware of this woman.” But it didn’t end there.
Enter local filmmaker Billy Corben, who has carried on a long-standing Twitter beef with the union chief, Sgt. Javier Ortiz.
A peeved Corben urged his 41,000 Twitter followers to complain about Ortiz to Facebook. Facebook took down the business card post. Ortiz put it back up. Facebook took it back down.
In the meantime so many angry people were calling her at work Wednesday that Castillo is afraid she might lose her job.
“They sent me home yesterday,” she said.
A local television station also dug up Castillo’s less than exemplary driving record. Sixteen tickets in the past 18 years. Five for speeding. Three for careless driving, one of them just two weeks ago.
“I’ve had my ups and downs,” she acknowledged in a telephone interview.
What it all adds up to — no one’s quite certain. It is this: Another episode of a police action going viral thanks to the presence of an ever-vigilant cellphone-happy public — a public that can’t seem to get enough video when a perceived injustice takes place.
The officer Castillo chased hasn’t been reprimanded. Neither has Ortiz. And Castillo still has her job. At a time when people have been hyper-vigilant in catching cops on cellphone cameras, Ortiz decided to begin his own social media smackdown.
Corben calls it “cyber bullying.” Ortiz didn’t return texts and phone calls.
Castillo, a 43-year-old Kendall construction manager, describes herself as a single mother with a deadbeat ex-husband who put herself through college. She says she’s “not the jerk they’re painting me to be.”
She said Ortiz is just trying to divert attention from the real issue — police not following the law.
Ortiz, president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police — which doesn’t even represent Daniel Fonticiella, the cop on the video — has become quite prolific at airing his opinions on Facebook.
The past two years he’s posted on Facebook controversial items and attacked people he thinks painted police in a bad light. He bashed a high-ranking female Muslim Miami officer for not covering her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. Then he went after a woman who posted a video of an arrest in Liberty City. He stood in support of police when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri.
Still, Miami police have stayed at arm’s length in disciplining the sergeant. This week was no different. Miami brass said union contracts prohibit it from punishing Ortiz.
“When acting in his capacity as their president, he does not represent the city of Miami nor the city of Miami Police Department,” wrote Miami police Maj. Delrish Moss. “With that said, this is an issue to be taken up with the members who have elected him to serve and not with the city of Miami Police Department.”