A handful of Miami Beach police officers sent hundreds of racially offensive, sexist and pornographic emails to fellow officers from their city accounts and possibly jeopardized dozens of criminal cases in which they are witnesses, the department's chief said Thursday.
An internal investigation revealed that two of the 16 officers were high ranking in the Miami Beach Police Department and were the main instigators, Chief Daniel Oates told reporters. One has retired, and the other was fired Thursday.
Oates said the probe revealed about 230 emails demeaning to African-Americans and women or pornographic in nature. Many were depictions of crude racial jokes involving President Barack Obama or black celebrities such as golfer Tiger Woods.
One shows a woman with a black eye and the caption “Domestic violence. Because sometimes, you have to tell her more than once.” Another depicts a board game called "Black Monopoly," in which every square says, “Go to jail.”
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said about 540 cases in which the officers were witnesses are being reviewed to determine if they are tainted racially. Some charges could be dropped as a result or prisoners freed.
“These activities are a breach of trust. They are disgusting,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure our office reviews with a fine-toothed comb all of these cases.”
Rundle added that criminal charges are possible if any minors are depicted in the pornographic images. One officer emailed an autopsy photo of a man fatally shot by police in 2011, possibly in violation of Florida law.
Oates said the emails came to light in an unrelated 2013 internal affairs probe involving now-retired Maj. Angel Vasquez. Most of the emails were sent from 2010 to mid-2012, and many of the officers involved apparently just received the offensive ones and did not forward them. Most of the emails were sent by Vasquez and former Capt. Alex Carulo, who was fired last week, according to The Miami Herald.
It wasn't immediately clear Thursday if Vasquez had an attorney to speak for him, and he has not been charged with any crime. Carulo’s attorney, Eugene Gibbons, told the Herald that he would fight his client’s firing because the emails are from several years ago. “This is old stuff,” Gibbons was reported as saying.
Oates, who took over the department last summer, said the investigation shows these types of offensive actions and attitudes are no longer tolerated. “I can't tell you how angry we are,” he said. “We want to send a message to our officers and our employees that this kind of behavior is over.”
Other police departments have recently uncovered officers involved with offensive emails, images and videos, including earlier this year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when four officers were fired over racially offensive videos and texts. The cases come amid a national debate about issues of race and law enforcement, including several instances of unarmed black men killed by police.
The Miami Beach investigation came to light only weeks before the annual Urban Beach Week event, which draws thousands of largely African-American young people to the area during the Memorial Day weekend.
“We are determined to get past this,” Oates said. “There's new leadership in this department. We are addressing this problem.”
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press