They talked about his passion for police work, his devotion to his officers and his pride for a law enforcement agency that has undergone great turmoil over the past few years.
But mostly, the hundreds of people who turned out at St. Joseph’s Church in Miami Beach on Tuesday prayed for what one police chaplain called “a miracle” for Bal Harbour Police Chief Mark Overton.
For weeks, the popular commander has been hooked to a feeding tube at Mount Sinai Medical Center, clinging to life after suffering a massive heart attack on July 4 while walking with his wife in Miami Beach. Since arriving at the hospital, he has yet to regain consciousness, said friends and family members.
“Doctors are saying to wait and see. But the brain is such an enigma, it’s hard to dismantle considering we know so little about it, like 10 percent,” his son, Marc Overton, told the Miami Herald. “If anyone can wake up from this, it’s him. People in much worse states than my dad have woken up from comas with no medical explanations. As strong as he is and as the man that he is, the whole idea is, why not? Why can’t he?”
For more than an hour on Tuesday, police officers from nearly a dozen departments joined the chief’s family and elected leaders from Bal Harbour to attend Mass on what was the veteran chief’s 54th birthday.
A fitness buff who jogged and regularly worked out, Overton collapsed while walking with his wife and was taken to Mount Sinai, his vital signs barely showing. Doctors inserted two stents in arteries surrounding his heart, but so far his recovery has been long and difficult.
His son said that although doctors say the future appears grim, the family “has faith based on the small improvements we’ve seen.”
“I go in there and there’s always a little something to be encouraged about,” Marc Overton said. “Sometimes he’ll turn his head if he recognizes the voice. He definitely feels pain, which is a great, great sign to us. We are very hopeful he can come back to us. My father is a man of faith, so if anyone can wake up from this, it’s him.”
The Rev. John O’Grady, chaplain for Bal Harbour police who presided at the service in the historic church, beckoned the scores of people to pray for the chief, describing him as a “deeply spiritual man” who is devoted to his officers.
With rows of police officers seated in the pews, the priest held up a candle that he recently brought back from an eighth century abbey in France known as Mont Saint-Michel, believed to be one of the oldest churches in the world named after the patron saint of police. “I will be praying for Mark Overton,” he said. “I think it’s a good time to pray for all first responders.”
He then turned and handed the candle to the acting chief in Bal Harbour, Miguel de la Rosa, to keep as a reminder for the officers.
After the service, dozens of people joined Overton’s wife, Esther, in the rear of the church. Officers from Miami Beach, where Overton was once a deputy chief, and Hialeah, where he had been the chief, stood with cops from nearly a dozen departments.
Neil Alter, a member of the Bal Harbour Citizen’s Coalition, said the large gathering was a testament to the respect that people share for Overton, who was sworn in as chief two years ago.
Alter described Bal Harbour’s top cop as an enlightened law enforcement leader. On his wall in his office is a large photo display of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader admired by Overton for his stance on nonviolent protest. “He’s not just a great chief,” Alter said, “he’s a great human being.”
Last year, while police agencies across the country were called into question for their use of force, Overton developed training for his officers to use the less-lethal weapons that fire bean-bag rounds to stun — rather than kill or injure — street suspects. He then offered the same training to other departments.
Over the past two years, Overton emerged as one of the more high-profile chiefs in Miami-Dade after taking the reins of a department steeped in scandal over its oversight of a troubled sting operation that laundered millions in drug cash for criminal groups but never made a single arrest.
Overton ordered the first-ever internal investigation and audit of the sting operation bank accounts, which found members of the unit withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug cash without any records to show where the money was spent.
The chief appeared in a Miami Herald investigative video, “License to Launder,” saying it did not appear the task force dismantled any criminal groups while laundering the drug cash for some of the most dangerous drug groups in the Americas.
The task force, which disbanded before he was hired, is now the subject of a federal grand jury investigation.
Bal Harbour Village Manager Jorge Gonzalez said the department is eager for their chief to recover.
“Nothing has been moved. His car is still waiting for his return,” he said. “How do you replace Mark Overton? His presence is deeply missed and it’s something we’re just going to have to keep working with; everyone has stepped up in his absence.”