South Miami

Wasn’t my call to retain, promote troubled cop, South Miami manager says

Jesus Aguiar rose to the rank of lieutenant in 10 years, in a department where other officers took nearly twice as long to reach the same rank.
Jesus Aguiar rose to the rank of lieutenant in 10 years, in a department where other officers took nearly twice as long to reach the same rank. South Miami Police Department

South Miami City Manager Steven Alexander and the police department are reviewing Lt. Jesus Aguiar, after reports of alleged harassment and other questionable incidents became public last week.

Aguiar has accepted a voluntary duty reassignment, resulting in a pay reduction, a reduction in overall responsibilities, a prohibition from supervisory duties, and “being removed from patrol duties, such that he is not in contact with the general public on a routine basis,” according to Alexander’s report.

The move came after the Miami Herald reported that Aguiar was involved in several incidents from 2005 to 2015 that resulted in internal affairs complaints and memos.

In 2005, Aguiar allegedly showed up to an office and handcuffed and pepper-sprayed his estranged girlfriend, according to her manager. In 2006, Aguiar used a police computer to look up a woman’s address and went to her house in a police vehicle. A communications officer at the department also filed a sexual harassment complaint against Aguiar in 2010, alleging that he showed a group of coworkers a sexually inappropriate picture on his phone, and that he shoved his hand down her slacks at a social function, and harassed her at work when she didn’t return his affections.

Aguiar’s disciplinary record includes: a 20-day unpaid suspension, sexual harassment and sensitivity training, switching to the midnight shift, and writing an apology.

The city manager wrote in a report Tuesday that it is neither “accurate nor fair” to imply that the current administration “has allowed and endorsed previous actions by the city’s former administrations.”

Alexander wrote that protections afforded police officers prevent the “administration from punishing an individual twice for the same action [unless new evidence is brought] and would also prevent the reversal of a promotion based on those previous disciplinary issues, as that would be seen as further discipline, which is in effect being punished for the same thing twice.”

Police Chief Rene Landa wrote in a memo to Alexander that Aguiar’s performance as a supervisor of SMPD will be evaluated for a year by his chain of command, while he receives a 5 percent reduction in pay, pending the outcome of the review. There will be a written report of his performance at the six-month period, as well as a final report to the chief at the end of the 12-month period, “recommending his continuation or removal from the position of lieutenant.”

“A meeting was held in 2010,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said, “with Kenneth Harms [former Miami police chief and special investigator], with the city’s labor attorney Jim Crosland, with then-City Manager Roger Carlton and City Attorney Larry Feingold.”

“Having reviewed everything, Crosland proposed and Harms agreed, that what Aguiar needed was a firm hand on his shoulder and a fatherly figure to set him straight. When Orlando Martinez de Castro was hired [as police chief] in October of 2010, he had the opportunity to do what he thought was appropriate. It was his decision not to fire Aguiar, but to promote him.”

Harms said he only agreed with Crosland after he was told that Aguiar would not be terminated. Harms said that although he recommended Aguiar’s termination to Carlton and also to the next city manager, Buford Witt, he was asked to formulate “alternatives.”

The alternatives suggested by Harms included stepping down from the rank of sergeant; not being permitted to take the sergeant’s test for two years; written apologies to city employees and the police department; a suspension; and more.

“It was still my opinion at that time that he be terminated,” Harms said.

Aguiar achieved the rank of lieutenant in just 10 years.

On Tuesday, Alexander said that he recommended Aguiar’s promotion to lieutenant be reviewed by Landa and his leadership team.

Alexander also recommended that an outside review panel of senior law enforcement leaders be established, headed by Sunny Isles Beach Chief Fred Maas.

Stoddard said while it was not his decision to retain Aguiar, he was “present when Harms agreed with Crosland that a firm hand on the shoulder was more appropriate response.”

“City Manager Hector Mirabile was the manager at the time, and a former police major for the City of Miami, when those issues were fresh,” Stoddard said. “The file was reviewed by Kenneth Harms, a police consultant, who was actually an investigator without an investigator’s license. Our police chief was Orlando Martinez de Castro. They decided, not me, but they, to keep Aguiar and promote him.”

Stoddard said that the lieutenant is an “extremely high performer,” but said he did not think any future promotions were being discussed at this time.

“The chief obviously saw something in Aguiar that he wanted not only to retain but to encourage: That would have been Aguiar’s extremely high performance and enthusiasm for the job,” Stoddard said. “His behavior at the time, mostly off the job, left room for improvement. But he wasn’t alone. . . . There were a lot of problems back in 2009. Those problems, for the most part, got straightened out.”

Stoddard also pointed to the recent performance of the police department, which achieved a 20-year low in crimes in 2014.

“There has been an enormous improvement in the South Miami Police Department,” Stoddard said. “Changes are seen in two areas, in neighborhood policing and kindness. The new chief has assigned officers to specific neighborhoods and he has emphasized kindness. The officers are doing nice things for people on their own initiative. That’s the new attitude.”

Harms defended Martinez de Castro, saying that it was “not his decision” to discipline Aguiar.

“It was not Martinez de Castro’s decision,” Harms said. “The matter had already been resolved when Orlando became police chief. Aguiar had already been disciplined. A new chief coming in cannot take an old discipline and discipline him a second time with the same set of facts. That was beyond Orlando’s control.”

In a memo dated May 17, 2010, Harms wrote to Witt: “Given the premeditated nature of this employee’s conduct, as well as its outrageous extremes, I recommend a termination of his employment. To do less would be inconsistent with the standards that officers swear to uphold as well as department rules and regulations, state and federal laws.”

“My position simply is still the same,” Harms said. “I stand by the investigation. I think it’s as relevant today as it was then. I think he clearly needed to be terminated in those circumstances. Or in the alternative, if they didn’t terminate him, to do those things that I listed down in my report to the manager.”

“It was plain to me that . . . he was a pleasant young fellow. He just didn’t have the maturity or good moral values to retain the position of a police officer, much less a police sergeant. But there were many people, as I recall, either directly or indirectly trying to go to bat for him. Saying he was a really nice guy and wanted them to reconsider.”

Alexander recommended several policy changes. They include directing the procedures for promotion to be revised and requiring the personnel files and internal affairs files of each recommended candidate for the positions of sergeant and higher positions be reviewed by both the chief of police and city manager before promotion.

Alexander also recommended that parties being informed of discipline be changed to include the city manager as a mandatory recipient of the charges alleged and penalties imposed.