Miami-Dade County

Tampa’s new mayor at odds with Justice Department over her oversight of Miami police

Jane Castor, elected mayor of Tampa last week, is recommending that the U.S. Department of Justice find that the Miami Police Department has completed the reforms required under an agreement with the federal agency. For three years, Castor has been monitoring the police department’s compliance.
Jane Castor, elected mayor of Tampa last week, is recommending that the U.S. Department of Justice find that the Miami Police Department has completed the reforms required under an agreement with the federal agency. For three years, Castor has been monitoring the police department’s compliance. Tampa Bay Times

The federal agency charged with overseeing use-of-force and training reforms at the Miami police department struck back at the person who has been monitoring those reforms this week, saying it had no intention of ending oversight anytime soon.

Last week, newly elected Tampa Mayor Jane Castor — a former police chief and the $150-an-hour monitor appointed to oversee the reform of Miami’s policing — said she believed the department had complied with the terms of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. They were set in place after a string of deadly police shootings of mostly unarmed black men almost a decade ago.

Miami police quickly agreed with Castor, who was sworn into office this week.

But others criticized both Castor and her recommendation that the agreement be terminated about a year before the March 2020 deadline.

On Thursday, during a meeting of the Community Advisory Board, which was created as part of the agreement, a city of Miami employee assigned to the board said he had spoken with the Justice Department and that it didn’t agree with Castor’s recommendation.

“It is the Department of Justice’s position that the agreement should not be terminated,” Rodney Jacobs, who investigates police misconduct for the city of Miami, said in a statement. “The independent reviewer has not reported substantial compliance with her quarterly reports and analysis. In the event the reviewer does report that level of compliance, per the agreement the police department must maintain that compliance for one year.“

A Justice Department attorney confirmed DOJ’s position, but wouldn’t comment further. DOJ also declined to answer written questions submitted by the Miami Herald.

The rift between Castor and DOJ comes a week after she told Miami leaders she wanted to end the policing agreement a year early because the city had “satisfied all of the requirements of the agreement.” Castor’s comments came two days after she was elected mayor of Tampa.

The agreement between Miami and DOJ was reached three years ago after federal investigators determined that Miami cops had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of deadly force, particularly over a seven-month period almost a decade ago in which police shot and killed seven black men, most of them unarmed. The parties approved the agreement in order to avoid federal courts and costs.

Though members of the citizen advisory board say they are satisfied with the department’s progress on many of the required reforms, they say there is more work to be done. And they said they’re not sure Castor is the right person for the job. During Thursday’s meeting, board members aired frustration over her performance and expressed doubt about her ability to juggle her new mayorship while reviewing police practices and policies in another city.

The Community Advisory Board, created to oversee police reforms under an agreement between the city of Miami and the U.S. Department of Justice, believes oversight should continue for at least another year. Board chairman Justin Pinn, center, echoed fellow board members in saying there is more work to be done. Joey Flechas

“How can she continue to do this job?” asked board chairman Justin Pinn.

“I have no confidence in her myself,” added board member Lorena Ramos.

Members lamented about late reports that, in their opinion, lacked depth and didn’t respond to the board’s requests for more analysis. They complained that they never received a requested comparison between Miami and other police departments and they said they wanted evidence that the department is pursuing implicit bias training and de-escalation techniques to avoid using force when it’s not necessary.

The board wants the city to negotiate an extension to the agreement so the city has time to hire a new monitor. Members also voted to request that Police Chief Jorge Colina, Mayor Francis Suarez and Castor be present at the next meeting in June to discuss the status of the agreement. If Castor were to exit, both the city and DOJ would have to agree to a new monitor.

Early on, Castor fell behind schedule in delivering quarterly reports to the Community Advisory Board. On Wednesday, she submitted a report for the last quarter of 2018. The report says there are still two areas related to officer-involved shootings that must be reviewed.

So far, Castor has been paid $154,400.80 for her work, according to the police department.

On Friday, Castor said the agreement stipulates that Miami remain in compliance for a full year before the agreement can be terminated. She said if the Justice Department determines that monitoring should continue and she agreed to do it, she would do so at no cost. She also disagreed that Miami had not yet fully complied with the requirements.

“I felt the Miami police department has reached substantial compliance in all areas of the agreement and they’ve been open and compliant,” the Tampa mayor said Friday.

As for the advisory board asking for an extension and saying that her reports had not been timely or thorough, Castor said she wasn’t sure where that was coming from.

“I’ve been in contact with Justin Pinn. He and I have met just about every time I’ve come down,” Castor said. “It’s the first I’ve heard any concern about the thoroughness of the reports.”

Deputy Miami Police Chief Ron Papier said he continues to believe the city has complied with the DOJ agreement.

“Our position is simple,” Papier said. “We believe the city of Miami police department is in compliance. We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us and will continue to do so.”

Papier said it’s a two-party agreement and that if the Justice Department wishes to keep monitoring the city until the agreement winds down in March of 2020, the department will abide by that agreement. He disagreed with the advisory board’s assessment that the department wasn’t taking the oversight seriously.

“We do take the community advisory board seriously,” said Papier. “Representatives have attended every meeting when asked. I’m not sure what we’re not in compliance with as of now.”

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He attended the University of Florida.
Chuck Rabin, writing news stories for the Miami Herald for the past three decades, covers cops and crime. Before that he covered the halls of government for Miami-Dade and the city of Miami. He’s covered hurricanes, the 2000 presidential election and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. On a random note: Long before those assignments, Chuck was pepper-sprayed covering the disturbances in Miami the morning Elián Gonzalez was whisked away by federal authorities.