Crime

Miami police major faces demotion or retirement over youth football emails

Miami Police Maj. Craig McQueen, left, has been ordered by the police chief to either retire or face demotion to captain over a series of emails he sent about his youth football league.
Miami Police Maj. Craig McQueen, left, has been ordered by the police chief to either retire or face demotion to captain over a series of emails he sent about his youth football league. JAMES FORBES/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

A Miami police major has been ordered to either retire or take a demotion after emails revealed he spent some of his work hours running a youth football league.

Miami Police Maj. Craig McQueen was issued the edict this week in a memo from Police Chief Manuel Orosa, who went through eight months of the veteran officer’s emails.

“It appears while he’s on the public dime, he’s writing emails and running the football program,” Orosa said.

McQueen, reached Friday afternoon by phone, said he hasn’t decided whether to take the demotion to captain, which would mean a return to street patrol. The 33-year veteran of the force also defended his dedication to police work.

“There’s no personal gain in this,’’ McQueen said. “This program will always be about the community. I want kids walking through the front door, not coming through the back door in handcuffs.”

McQueen is president of the Greater Miami South Florida Pop Warner youth football league, which is not associated with the city. Over the last year and a half, he has been embroiled in a unusual lawsuit with a fellow Miami police major, Delrish Moss. Moss, who now oversees Police Athletic League teams, has accused his fellow officer of withholding personal information on some players and trying to poach others in Miami’s highly competitive youth football leagues.

A Miami Herald records request found that between the months of February and September 2014, McQueen corresponded with people involved in his league 1,313 times. The emails run a gamut of issues — demands that league organizers meet with sponsors; discussions of the purchase of cheerleading outfits with suppliers; even a request to use city park space for a league banquet.

In one series of emails with local rapper and New Times columnist Luther Campbell, who runs the Liberty City Optimist Club teams that play in the Pop Warner league, Campbell complained to McQueen about abusing his power and giving optimist teams a hard time.

Though the memo from Orosa gives McQueen until midnight Saturday to accept the demotion, he said he’s been given another week to think it over. McQueen currently earns $151,644 a year. As a captain he would make $124,736. His yearly pension should he retire would be almost identical to his salary as a major, city records show.

Informed about the emails obtained by the Herald, McQueen said he had been using his city email account for youth football business since he created the Police Athletic League teams in 2011.

The problem, according to Oroso, is that McQueen continued to do so after he left the PAL teams in the spring of 2013 and formed his own teams in Pop Warner. At that point, the police chief said, it appears McQueen was taking care of personal business when he should have been protecting the public interest.

McQueen said he was never cautioned about using emails to discuss the leagues.

“Everything I did, I did through the police department. I gave out work emails and that wasn’t a problem,’’ he said. “Why hasn’t someone from the department said, ‘I don’t want you using emails?’ If you don’t want me, that’s one thing. But don’t try to smear my name.”

McQueen’s youth football controversies began not long after he was promoted in 2012 from a major in community relations to run the department’s Central District. The move meant that Moss, the major taking over McQueen’s former post, was given charge of the Police Athletic League’s seven teams in the Pop Warner youth football league.

The following year, Moss, believing some kids as young as 6 weren’t getting enough playing time, chose to move the PAL teams to the less hailed Xtreme League. McQueen then decided to jump ship and begin his own teams back in Pop Warner.

Though the PAL teams aren’t directly linked to the city, they are part of a charity league supported by Law Enforcement Trust Fund money and private donations. It’s run by a board with police representation. Pop Warner operates independently.

In June 2013, Moss filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County civil court, suing McQueen and two others on behalf of PAL. The lawsuit claims McQueen “surreptitiously obtained the confidential and/or proprietary information” of hundreds of kids playing youth football, and won’t return them. The suit goes on to say McQueen siphoned away players and called it a “gross dereliction of fairness and decency in civilized society.”

The lawsuit is set for trial on Jan. 28. McQueen and his attorney Michael Marsh asked a judge to toss the case. Moss, who chose not to comment on McQueen’s impending demotion, said he’s planning on meeting with his attorney next week in preparation for the trial. McQueen said he believes the binders holding the kids personal information belongs to Pop Warner, not him.

Rap musician Campbell told The Herald that he believes McQueen was using his office to do background checks on some of the optimist coaches. He also took issue with a July 2 email from McQueen, in which the major asked Campbell to pay an outstanding balance at a trophy shop. Campbell said that’s none of McQueen’s business.

“Every week there’s an attack by you on the Liberty City Optimist Club,” Campbell responded in an email. “ Please let us know if there’s something personal.”

In an earlier email on May 6, McQueen wrote the parks department’s deputy director Lara De Souza seeking a response on whether his teams can use Moore Park for an end of the year banquet.

“I am not sure I can tell our volunteers, sponsors, coaches, national Pop Warner, supporters and kids with a straight face that no decision has been reached,” wrote McQueen. “I am extremely concerned, please call me...”

It isn't the first time a high-ranking police officer has gotten in hot water for an outside interest in football.

Miami-Dade Maj. Tyrone White was fired after internal affairs said he used his computer during work hours to coordinate activities for his unofficial charity flag football team. Saying the investigation into him was illegal, White sued the county in 2013 and got his job back. He is now a captain in the Northside District.

Miami Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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