By Charles Rabin and Nadege Green – Miami Herald
A day after dozens of Miami police union members stormed City Hall and interrupted a commission meeting, Police Chief Manuel Orosa laid down the law: Do it again and you’ll be prosecuted.
An investigation has been promised.
Last Thursday, while commissioners were conducting city business, a peaceful rally in Peacock Park just down the street turned into a road trip, with unionized officers marching into nearby City Hall and demanding that the city restore benefits taken away over the years to help balance the budget.
They held up signs that read “Low pay, low morale.” They banged against glass windows. They shouted until commissioners left the dais and put a halt to the meeting.
What started as atame protest by upset police officers became increasingly unruly. They shouted “Regalado gotta go!” referring to Mayor Tomás Regalado, and “Restore pay!”
Stunned observers took photos on their cellphones. Others joked about calling police to quell the unrest. As officers chanted “Second floor, second floor,” they filed out of the chamber and up the steps toward the mayor’s and city manager’s offices.
The drama lasted about 20 minutes before commissioners returned to their seats and resumed their meeting.
Chief Orosa responded in a police department-wide email Friday, calling the demonstrators “a mob” that had placed city staffers “in fear for their safety.”
If it happens again, the chief said, the cost will be steep.
“Please keep in mind that the disruption of a governmental official meeting is a prosecutable crime. . . . Should this behavior repeat itself, members should expect punitive legal action, up to and including prosecution. I would hope that in the future, none of you allow yourselves to follow misguided individuals who act without first considering the consequences of their action,” Orosa said.
The chief was taking a clear shot at Javier Ortiz, the outspoken president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, who organized last week’s rally in the park.
During the outburst at City Hall, Ortiz said his members had suffered pay cuts of more than 20 percent, had given up annual physicals, new cars and uniforms to help the city make financial ends meet. He said they had reached “a tipping point.”
Monday, responding to Orosa’s threat, Ortiz blasted away.
“Chief Orosa’s letter was him trying to cover up his lack of leadership at last week’s demonstration. I do not condone unprofessionalism or illegal acts. However, we will exercise our First Amendment rights, which if he intends to squash, will result in some bigger challenges for him.
“A threatening letter will not intimidate us from having our voices heard,” Ortiz said. “This is just the first demonstration this year and you should anticipate many more in the very near future.”