Black officers accuse Miami police chief of ignoring discrimination in department

Members of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association presented a binder to city leaders with multiple cases they say show a pattern of unfair treatment of black officers in the department

Joey Flechas
Miami Herald

MIAMI — Black members of Miami’s police department have accused Police Chief Jorge Colina of neglecting to address their complaints of racial discrimination and inequality in his force.

Members of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, Miami’s largest black police association, aired their complaints about the department’s leadership at Friday’s City Commission meeting. Officers presented a binder with multiple cases that they argued show a pattern of unfair treatment of black officers in the police department, particularly black men.

Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, president of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, speaks to Miami city leaders about concerns his organization has about racial discrimination in the police department. (Photo/TNS)
Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, president of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, speaks to Miami city leaders about concerns his organization has about racial discrimination in the police department. (Photo/TNS)

The commission didn’t act on the complaints but directed Colina to meet with the association to work on resolving the issues. Colina and the association had met several months ago, but stopped after the sides came to an impasse.

Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, president of the association, and other officers walked through situations where they said black officers were demoted or dismissed as retaliation for complaining about discrimination. In one case, Jean-Poix said a higher-ranking officer used a racial slur against a subordinate, who was black. The complaint went nowhere, Jean-Poix said, and the officer who complained was transferred out of the department.

“Black officers are treated worse than their peers because of who they are, not what they do,” said Jean-Poix. “Chief Colina and Deputy Chief [Ronald] Papier have failed to carry out their obligations, and are making decisions that our members feel are detrimental.”

In one instance from March 2018, homicide detective Ezra Washington found an image on his desk that depicted a black man with his throat slit, a poster for the Nigerian film “Executive Billionaires.” Washington described the image as “disrespectful and very inappropriate” in a complaint he filed. A memo filed later on by the administrator of the department’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity Program stated that a “case of discrimination based on color, race, and sex/gender cannot be substantiated.” Washington was later transferred out of homicide.

In another instance, Detective Fignole Lubin contends he was harassed by his superior, Sgt. Jose Reyes, when the sergeant made several comments about Lubin’s Haitian accent and his age. Lubin said Reyes badgered him about retiring, and when Lubin stood up for himself, Reyes wrote him up for insubordination and got him transferred out of the homicide unit.

During the conversation, which Commissioner Joe Carollo had requested, he interrupted multiple times to express his support for the officers making the presentation, to complain that he felt he was targeted by city police recently when his wife received a traffic citation, and to criticize City Manager Emilio González and his administration, including Colina. González submitted his resignation Thursday, though he has not said when his last day will be.

In his response, Colina pointed to promotions of several black women under his administration as signs that he has sought to diversify his department and command staff. With an upcoming round of promotions in February, his command staff will have 10 black members, a milestone he touted.

“We’re going to have 10 black staff members, seven of them are females,” he said. “Ten black staff members is the most that we have ever had in the history of this police department.”

The police chief said 27 percent of the sworn officers in the police department are black, a figure that surpasses the percentage of Miami’s population that is black, 17 percent.

Colina defended his department’s handling of some of the individual situations cited.

In the case of Washington, the homicide detective who found the violent image on this desk, Colina stood by the investigation’s findings and said the transfer was coincidental because Washington faced a separate issue. Colina said although he is fond of Washington and considered him a fine investigator, the detective had “jeopardized a capital murder case” when he had an inappropriate relationship with the girlfriend of an incarcerated man facing a murder charge on a case where he was the lead investigator.

By the end of the hearing, Hardemon said he empathized with the association and Colina. He spoke of growing up in Liberty City, saying “it’s hard enough for a black man to get a job,” while acknowledging that the police chief has a tough job — Hardemon’s mother was a Miami police officer who received career support from her chief.

“I want to see us come to an agreement about how to move forward,” Hardemon told both sides.

Colina and the association are expected to meet in the next month to discuss the issues that were raised, a conversation Jean-Poix said he welcomed after the meeting.

“We’re ready to meet, to sit down and correct the problem,” he told the Miami Herald.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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