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On the morning of October 20, a City of Miami police officer walked into a local polling place to cast his ballot during early voting while sporting his full uniform and a mask that read “TRUMP 2020 NO MORE BULLSHIT.”
Steve Simeonidis, chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, spotted the officer and recorded him inside Miami’s Government Center. The officer can be heard on video telling Simeonidis, “Hey, what’s up, bud? You want to take a picture, sweetheart?”
Simeonidis took a screenshot of the video and tweeted a photo. The image of the officer quickly made the rounds on social media, drawing ire from coast to coast and making national headlines.
Police Chief Jorge Colina, who has since retired, said at the time that the officer’s actions were unacceptable and a violation of departmental policy. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle directed her staff to “look into the matter” over concerns that the officer’s actions constituted voter intimidation. Even Miami Mayor Francis Suarez weighed in, tweeting that the cop, later identified as Daniel Ubeda, was under investigation and that “disciplinary measures will be taken.”
I have spoken to Chief Colina and we agree that the officer’s behavior is unacceptable. This was a violation of departmental policy.
He is under investigation and disciplinary measures will be taken.
— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) October 20, 2020
But records recently obtained by New Times indicate that Ubeda merely received a written reprimand. An internal investigation by the Miami Police Department (MPD) concluded that he violated policies related to improper procedure and discourtesy.
The MPD conducted its own investigation after the State Attorney’s Office determined that “no crime of voter intimidation could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“As the potential of voter intimidation requires a victim who felt intimidated at the polling site, attention focused on locating early voters who were at the voting site when Officer Ubeda was there voting,” State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith explains in an email. “Video and social media comments were reviewed in the search for possible voters. No Government Center impacted voters could be located.”
Griffith says that because there was no contact information for any impacted voters, State Attorney’s Office staff looked at the existing video footage to determine if Ubeda spoke to anyone at the polling site. But other than Simeonidis, Ubeda only appeared to speak with election officials who were overseeing early voting.
“After voting, Officer Ubeda immediately left the Government Center,” Griffith writes. “Voters in the video did not appear to notice Officer Ubeda.”
After closing its investigation, the State Attorney’s Office referred the case back to the MPD. Deputy police chief Ronald Papier closed the internal affairs investigation after signing off on the reprimand on February 4.
The reprimand says Ubeda was discourteous in his exchange with Simeonidis and violated procedure by engaging in politics while on duty and failing to wear his body camera.
In his statement to internal affairs, Ubeda said he was on duty and went to Government Center to vote. He explained that he usually wears a neck gaiter to cover his face and carries a blue face mask with white stars in his breast pocket as a backup. Ubeda said he unintentionally grabbed the Trump mask when he left home that day and stuffed it in his breast pocket as the backup mask. The officer said he didn’t have the neck gaiter on him when he went to vote and put on his secondary mask to go inside the polling place. That’s when he ran into Simeonidis.
“Officer Ubeda explained Mr. Simeonidis did not complain to him about his mask but had he mentioned it, he would have turned it inside out. Officer Ubeda stated he cast his vote and left without interacting with any other person,” the reprimand says. “Once he exited, he realized which face mask he was wearing and understood why Mr. Simeonidis took a photograph of him. He stated he did not wear the face mask again.”
Sgt. Tommy Reyes, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union, says he represented Ubeda during his internal affairs interview and thought the reprimand was fair.
“We believe strongly in progressive discipline,” Reyes says. “The case was not egregious to the point where someone was injured. This wasn’t a criminal case. So you have to start somewhere, and discipline is progressive. Like a kid, one time you warn them and then the discipline comes. This guy made one poor decision that did not result in any physical injuries to anyone, no false arrest, no one being hurt. One small, poor decision in the big scheme of things. Some people were offended, but really it was nothing but a uniform violation. Now if he does it again, I totally agree with progressive discipline.”
Reyes says he doesn’t believe the public would have reacted the same way if Ubeda had been wearing a mask in support of Joe Biden. Nevertheless, he believes police should not get involved in politics while on duty.
“I don’t think he’ll do that again,” Reyes adds. “No officer should make any political statement while in uniform. There’s a time and a place for everything, and that’s not one.”
Jeanne Baker, chair of the Greater Miami ACLU’s police practices committee, says the reprimand sends a “clear and strong message” that voter intimidation won’t be tolerated by the MPD, even if an incident is the result of negligence.
But Rodney Jacobs, assistant director of the city’s Civilian Investigative Panel, which investigates citizens’ complaints against police officers, believes the reprimand is insufficient because it was not accompanied by sensitivity training.
“This is concerning to me still if he doesn’t get sensitivity training about why using political speech in your capacity is unacceptable,” Jacobs says. “No one is asserting that police officers can’t have an opinion. No one is asserting police officers shouldn’t vote. The issue here that police officers need to understand is that utilizing your public office as a police officer while in uniform to make a political statement — and that statement using language like ‘bullshit’ — destroys public trust.”
Adds Jacobs: “From what I can tell from the [internal affairs] report, he didn’t seem very apologetic about it. He just said he grabbed the wrong mask by accident. And then calling a guy ‘sweetheart,’ like he was almost goading him on. I think that’s improper, too. A lot of his actions are concerning.”
Records show Ubeda has previously been disciplined by the MPD, although many of the incidents were relatively minor. His disciplinary file shows he missed court five times in 2008, three times in 2010, and once in 2011. He received written reprimands and suspensions ranging from 10 to 40 hours. Ubeda also was involved in two crashes in which he was found to be at fault.
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