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Miami-Dade sheriff's race: 17 candidates. A look at disciplinary and use-of-force histories

Seventeen candidates are running to become the first elected sheriff of Miami-Dade County since 1966.
Candidate campaign image collage
Seventeen candidates are running to become the first elected sheriff of Miami-Dade County since 1966.

In 2009, Republican candidate for Miami-Dade County sheriff Ignacio “Iggy” Alvarez picked up a side gig with the Panamanian National Police.

That year, the future candidate traveled twice to Panama to help train officers there.

There was just one problem: Alvarez, then a major with the county police department, did not tell his superiors about his side job, a violation of department policies, according to a written reprimand of Alvarez obtained by WLRN.

The work itself was not the issue; it was not telling his employer as required.

“It came down to my mistake and my secretary’s mistake. I didn’t realize you had to submit it every year,” said Alvarez. In previous years, he said, he submitted the required disclosures.

On top of not telling his bosses about his side gig, Alvarez was found to have violated department policy by using county resources to assist in his work in Panama. According to the reprimand, Alvarez used Miami-Dade Police Department resources to send himself training documents. One e-mail attachment he sent to himself from his county email was titled “Topics for Panama.”

“You are hereby advised that this type of conduct is not acceptable,” reads the reprimand, written in 2011 and placed in Alvarez’ file.

The written reprimand is one part of a slew of documents outlining use-of-force incidents, citizen complaints and disciplinary actions taken against candidates for Miami-Dade sheriff obtained by WLRN through public records requests, as voters prepare to elect a county sheriff for the first time since 1966.

READ MORE: A new sheriff will soon be elected in Miami-Dade County, but how much power will they have?

A whopping 17 candidates are vying to be the top cop in Miami-Dade, a position that will only perhaps be rivaled in raw power by the county mayor.

The primary election for the race takes place on Aug. 20, with the winner for each party facing off in November's ballot.

The new records offer sometimes mundane, and sometimes revealing details about the large group of candidates vying for the position.

For example, Alvarez reported a total of three use-of-force incidents over his long career, all of which took place in 1994 and 1995.

Republican Ignacio "Iggy" Alvarez is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Ignacio Alvarez for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Ignacio 'Iggy' Alvarez is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Alvarez was also given a three-day suspension in 2000 for a case in which he “gave vague statements” to Internal Affairs investigators about how he failed to properly document an incident, “leaving out important information,” and that he “failed to make an arrest that should have been made.” The reprimand also said he didn't call a prosecutor to discuss a narcotics case connected to a confidential informant.

Alvarez said he won an internal appeal of the 2000 suspension, but that does not show on his employee records. Further back, in 1995, he was reprimanded for having his second “preventable accident” with his county vehicle in the three years since he was hired.

“Yeah, I crashed,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

On the flip side, Alvarez also received a total of 60 positive commendations for work between 1992 and 2010. Out of all the candidates WLRN examined, Alvarez had by far the most commendations listed on his file.

“I didn’t know that and I am happy to hear that,” Alvarez said.

With so many candidates vying to be Miami-Dade sheriff, it can be hard to sort through them all.

In the public interest, the following is a summary of what the records obtained by WLRN reveal about the candidates. WLRN has yet to receive records from law enforcement agencies regarding Republican candidates Jeffrey Giordano, Alexander Fornet and Rolando Riera Jr. or Democratic candidate Susan Khoury.

Democrat Rickey Mitchell is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Rickey Mitchell for Sheriff Campaign
Democrat Rickey Mitchell is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Rickey Mitchell, Democrat

Candidate Rickey Mitchell spent 25 years with the Miami-Dade Police Department. He was hired in 1981 and retired as a lieutenant in 2006.

He has three separate five-day suspensions on his record on the force.

Mitchell was suspended for five days in 2001 because he “failed to follow orders” when he played a part in releasing a subject arrested for possession of cocaine. A previous five-day suspension from 1991 did not have any further information attached to the report. But in 1990, a citizen complaint of minor theft against him was sustained by investigators.

And in 1993, Mitchell was suspended for 5 days for failing to show up to juvenile court, despite being subpoenaed.

In February of 1998, Mitchell shot his firearm on the job, although no one was reported injured. Wilson was fully “exonerated” of the complaint made against him for that incident. No further information about the incident was immediately available.

Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment.

During his 25 years at the county Mitchell received 20 commendations for his service

Republican Mario Knapp is running for Miami-Dade Sheriff
Mario Knapp for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Mario Knapp is running for Miami-Dade Sheriff

Mario Knapp, Republican

In 2001, Knapp received a complaint for shooting an animal in South Dade, a shooting for which he was exonerated of wrongdoing.

Between 1996 and 2004, Knapp was involved in a total of 12 use-of-force incidents, most of which consisted of drawing his firearm on a suspect or pushing, pulling or hitting a suspect with his hands.

Knapp told WLRN all of the above relates to the fact that for years, he worked in the Miami-Dade SWAT team, specifically as a grenadier. That put him on the frontlines of raiding houses to apprehend criminal suspects, and deploying gas when ordered to do so.

As a self-described "animal lover," it hurt him to remember shooting the dog, he said.

"There was a murderer barricaded on the scene, and he saw the SWAT team surrounding the house," he explained. "He opened the door and screamed 'Go get 'em!' and the pit bull came running out. Unfortunately, we had to do what we had to do."

"I had to make split second decisions," he explained.

Internal affairs found no issue with any of those cases.

In 1996, Knapp was given a written reprimand for missing a court date for a second time, after receiving counseling for missing it once before.

"I did. I missed court, I lost my court book at the courthouse," he said. By the time he got his calendar and schedule back in order, he had already missed the court date.

Two years later, in 1998, Knapp was given a written reprimand for crashing his county vehicle for the second “preventable” time.

More recently, Knapp served as the Command Post Incident Commander after the 2021 Surfside condo collapse that left 98 dead.

Knapp was hired by Miami-Dade in 1994. Since then he has received 33 commendations for his service. The most recent was for teamwork and professionalism in 2017.

Joe Sanchez, Republican

Republican Joe Sanchez has been a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol since 1987. In between, he spent eleven years as a City of Miami commissioner, starting in 1998.

Sanchez recently announced that he has taken a leave of absence from his job to focus on the campaign.

During Sanchez’ time as a state trooper, more than anything he has had his car damaged by on-the-job incidents. In 1990, he ran into a concrete map post with his state vehicle, then a few months later he lost his handheld radio while on a traffic stop. While in pursuit of a suspect in 1994, he crashed into a “concrete building.” Then, in 1995, his vehicle was sideswiped while it was parked in front of his house, and in 2012 another car hit his in a mirror-to-mirror crash.

The Florida Highway Patrol found no issues with any of those incidents.

In 1990, Sanchez received a complaint that he used excessive force and tampered with evidence during an arrest. That complaint was determined to be unfounded.

A slap on the wrist did come in 2015. A written reprimand from an FHP colonel found that he created a “conflict of interest” by asking companies that clean up accident scenes to help him raise money to help “underprivileged children.” The problem was that the Florida Highway Patrol directly regulates those same companies, and the letters bore Sanchez’ signatures.

“During a sworn administrative interview, you stated you did not know that the letters were sent to the wrecker companies until you received calls from some of the companies asking where checks could be found,” reads the written reprimand.

“When asked if you would have done something different if you knew the letters had been sent to Department-regulated companies you said, ‘I would probably have stopped it, but it was too late.’ You agreed it was your responsibility to know where the letters were being sent, and that you should have paid closer attention.”

It is not clear for whom or what organization the funds were being raised.

Attempts to reach the Sanchez campaign have not been successful.

Records received from the Florida Highway Patrol.

Republican Orlando Lopez is running to be Miami-Dade sheriff
Orlando Lopez for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Orlando Lopez is running to be Miami-Dade sheriff

Orlando "Orly" Lopez, Republican

Republican candidate Orlando Lopez was involved in a shootout that started with an anti-burglary detail in South Dade in September of 2007. The shootout resulted in the suspect shooting and killing fellow officer Jose Somohano with an AK-47, and wounding two other officers. Lopez fired his rifle during the incident, according to use-of-force reports included in his official employee profile.

Lopez told WLRN the paperwork must be mistaken. He did not have a rifle at the time, he recalled. He used a pistol.

“It was literally a shootout,” said Lopez. “One of my friends died there. Two other friends were injured. It matured me in my career, at two years you’re just a rookie. And it really opened up my eyes to how some people can literally have no respect for human life.”

The daylong manhunt for the suspect ended in Pembroke Pines in Broward County, where officers shot the suspect dead. "They killed the a**hole, thank God," said Lopez. Shortly after the incident, Lopez received a “Gold Medal of Valor” from the department for his actions.

That incident aside, Lopez has been involved in five other use-of-force incidents since he was hired in 2005. The latest incident happened in 2015, with a suspect receiving multiple bruises and abrasions. Further case details were not included in the general report.

Lopez said he could not recall any details about those incidents: “I have no clue."

Since he was hired in 2005, Lopez has received 23 commendations for his work. The most recent was a “Special Reward” and recognition in September of 2022.

Democrat James Reyes is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
James Reyes for Sheriff Campaign
Democrat James Reyes is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

James Reyes, Democrat

Democrat James Reyes spent over two decades working with the Broward Sheriff’s Office before being hired by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in 2022, first as the director of the county jail system, and later as the Chief of Public Safety in Miami-Dade, overseeing the county police department, as well as Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and the Department of Corrections.

During his time at BSO, Reyes oversaw the creation of the Real Time Crime Center, an effort that started in response to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018, which left 17 dead.

During his 22 years working in Broward, Reyes was involved in four use-of-force incidents, all between 2004 and 2006. Investigators found no issue with any of those incidents.

Reyes told WLRN all those incidents took place when he was among the first mental health deputies in the BSO, assigned to the Broward County jail system.

“Our jobs were to deescalate crises situations from folks that were in custody, that were suffering from mental illness,” said Reyes. “While some officers were going the opposite way, I felt very comfortable dealing with somebody while they were trying to hurt themselves or injure themselves or flat out trying to commit suicide.”

“The fact that you only see four uses-of-force I think is a testament to our commitment to deescalate through using time, using space, and definitely being able to relate and communicate with folks in the worst of their times,” he said.

Since Reyes took charge of the Miami-Dade jail system in 2022, the county was able to come out from under direct federal oversight for the first time in a decade. The jail system came under federal supervision in 2013 due to a large number of inmates dying, from violence and suicide. The death rate had skyrocketed just prior to Reyes coming on board, drawing warnings from the federal judge overseeing the pervasive issues.

“It's something that we take very seriously,” Reyes told WLRN last year.

Jail deaths decreased after Reyes came in, and federally appointed jail monitors credited his leadership for bringing “stability and professionalism” to the troubled jail system.

Reyes was investigated by BSO's internal affairs in 2005 for allegedly not meeting department standards, but investigators found the allegations "unfounded." No further action was taken, and no further details were immediately available.

Reyes could not recall exactly what was alleged, but said the fact that investigators considered the allegations "unfounded" proves that no violation ever occurred.

Records received from Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Republican John Rivera is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
John Rivera for Sheriff Campaign
Republican John Rivera is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

John Rivera, Republican

More than being on the streets, Republican John Rivera was most recently famous — or infamous, depending on whom you ask — for being the union boss of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, representing officers of the county police and corrections departments.

Rivera was originally hired by the Miami-Dade Police Department in 1978, and he is still on active duty.

In his early years he led an investigations task force related to the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980, that brought an estimated 125,000 Cubans to South Florida.

Through his long spanning career in the department, Sgt. Rivera has only reported a single use-of-force incident, from when he was working on the Intracoastal waterway in 1990. No details of that incident appear on his employee profile.

As the president of the Dade Police Benevolent Association, Rivera admittedly staked out controversial, divisive positions, often defending police officers even when their conduct had very little public support, like when a North Miami officer shot a Black caretaker in 2016. That caretaker, Charles Kinsey, had his hands up in the air and he was assisting an autistic patient who was playing with a firetruck in the middle of the road. Kinsey yelled to officers that he was a “care tech” looking out for his patient before police shot him in the leg.

Rivera slammed reporting about the incident, which generated national news at the time, saying the officer did all the right things when he shot Kinsey.

"It appeared to the officers that the white male was trying to do harm to Mr. Kinsey," Rivera said. "The officers, realizing and believing that there was a firearm — many officers thought the white male had a firearm. Only much later, when we're able to 'Monday-morning quarterback,' do we find out that it's a toy."

Rivera was ousted as union boss shortly afterwards.

He did not respond to requests for comment.

He has received five commendations for his work with the county since he started in 1978. The latest — for professionalism — was issued in 1996.

Republican Rosanna Cordero-Stutz is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Rossana Cordero-Stutz for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Rosanna Cordero-Stutz is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Rosanna "Rosie" Cordero-Stutz, Republican

Republican Rosanna Cordero-Stutz is currently the Assistant Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, where she was hired as an officer in 1996. Before being promoted to Sergeant in 2004, she was involved in three use-of-force incidents, in 1997 and 1998. All of them took place in the Northside district.

None of the incidents led to any disciplinary actions. A single citizen complaint was filed against her in 2005 for not following proper procedures, but an internal investigation did not sustain the allegations.

Cordero-Stutz did not respond to requests for comment sent to her or her campaign.

Cordero-Stutz has received 28 commendations for her duty. Most of these were issued between 1997 and 2000. Her latest commendation, for Dedication to Duty, was issued in 2014.

Republican Ernesto Rodriguez is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Ernesto Rodriguez for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Ernesto Rodriguez is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Ernesto "Ernie" Rodriguez, Republican

Ernesto Rodriguez was hired by the Miami-Dade Police Department in 1987. Between 1989 and 1990 he reported five use-of-force incidents during his time spent patrolling in Kendall. Rodriguez was promoted to a lieutenant in 2004, and has not been involved in any use-of-force incidents since.

Having use-of-force incidents is not only normal, but should be expected from good officers, stressed Rodriguez.

“If you don’t have any use-of-forces while on the road, you’re not doing your job,” Rodriguez told WLRN. “Either you’re lazy, you’re not working to actually get arrests or you’re just spending all your time giving tickets to viejitos.’

In 1993, Rodriguez shot and killed an animal with a service pistol. The incident actually happened when he was off the clock, he explained.

“My next door neighbor’s pit bull came to my house at 3 in the morning and was killing my German Shepherd,” remembered Rodriguez. “I shot it three times, and I know I hit it because it was point blank, but she never let go if you can believe it. She never let go.”

Since it was a service pistol, Rodriguez had to report the incident to his employer and go through an investigation. Investigators determined that he did not follow the proper procedures during the incident, but otherwise cleared him from any wrongdoing.

In the end, Rodriguez was forced to put his German Shepherd down because of the injuries from the attack.

“I cried my heart out because I had to put down an animal I had since six weeks,” he said.

Rodriguez loves animals, he stressed. Currently, he is a lieutenant in Miami-Dade’s Agriculture and Environmental Crimes Unit.

“We’re the ones that investigate illegal horse killings for meat in the Redlands, and things like that,” he stressed.

He has received 19 commendations for his service since starting. His latest commendations were in 2018, for “good health” and for being a “safe driver.”

Republican Ruamen Delarua is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Ruamen Delarua for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Ruamen Delarua is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Ruamen Delarua, Republican

To read Ruamen Delarua’s use-of-force incident reports from nearly three decades he spent at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is to step into a different world. Nearly all of the fifteen incidents take place in the woods, where he tracked suspects with his trusted police dog, Titan.

Robberies, drug cases, stolen cars and a wellness call to help locate a suicidal man kept Delarua coming back to the Southern backwoods he frequented when he worked as a Marion County K-9 officer.

"A lot of the bad stuff happens in the woods up there," Delarua told WLRN.

Delarua has worked with dogs for decades, including tracking murder suspects into the woods, and helping find and identify dead bodies.

In one incident in February of 2008, Delarua and Titan tracked a theft suspect into the woods, and when they found him, the man was lying naked, “covered in leaves and mud in an attempt to conceal himself,” according to an incident report. Delarua commanded his dog to engage the man, and the naked man punched the dog repeatedly. When the suspect was finally apprehended, an officer writing the report noted that the naked man had sustained “several punctures on his thighs and penis caused by the K-9.”

“I know in my heart of hearts that I always did everything to prevent any bites,” said Delarua. “There are some that you can’t control. And in those cases unfortunately someone is going to get hurt and you pray for them.”

Delarua worked for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office between 1986 and 2013. Both before and afterwards, he worked with the City of Miami Police Department.

Records show no citizen complaints and no disciplinary actions taken against him during his time at the city, where he is still employed.

Records received from Marion County Sheriff’s Office and City of Miami Police Department.

Democrat John Barrow is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
John Barrow for Sheriff Campaign
Democrat John Barrow is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

John Barrow, Democrat

Democrat John Barrow has been with the Miami-Dade Police Department since 2007. Since then, he has reported three use-of-force incidents, in 2008, 2011 and 2013.

Of those, Barrow only recalled one in particular.

"I tazed someone, indeed," he told WLRN.

Barrow received a written reprimand in 2009 for “violating the County’s Personnel Rules,” although the reprimand included no details of his conduct or findings.

He said that incident came from when he responded to a burglary incident at the height of the financial crisis, when government budgets were being slashed across the board.

At the time, the amount of hours that detectives worked were restrained due to budget cuts. Barrow said what got him in trouble was that he wrote this down on the police report, to explain why detectives did not show up to the crime scene on a weekend call. Detectives would have to pick up the case on a weekday.

“The reprimand was for writing an internal policy statement on a form without authorization. Because what happened was, a few days later, the lady asked for the police report and it said: ‘Detectives did not respond due to budget cuts.’ And understandably, she got really angry,” said Barrow.

“I believe police should respond to help, and I still believe it, but I got written up for violating policy,” he said.

He has received a total of 37 commendations for his work at the county, the most recent of which was in 2021.

Republican Jose Aragu is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Jose Aragu for Sheriff Campaign
Republican Jose Aragu is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Jose Aragu, Republican

Jose Aragu was hired by the Miami-Dade Police Department in 2006, and he remains active with the rank of Major.

He has been involved with four use-of-force incidents, of which one, from 2008, involved the use of his county vehicle. A citizen registered a complaint about that case, but Aragu was cleared of any wrongdoing.

One incident in 2009 resulted in a variety of complaints being filed against Aragu. Most of the complaints were dismissed, but investigators substantiated the finding that he engaged in “conduct unbecoming” of a police officer. Separately, the investigators sustained a complaint that he did not follow proper procedures for that incident. No further details were readily available.

Also in 2009, he received “informal counseling” connected to allegations of “abuse of authority,” but no further details were provided. In 2013, Aragu received a written reprimand from the police department, but details of the reprimand were not released in WLRN’s request for records.

Aragu did not respond to calls for comment.

Since 2009, Aragu has received 53 commendations for his service. The latest came in 2022, for “dedication to duty.”

Republican Jaspen Bishop is running for Miami-Dade sheriff
Jaspen Bishop fo Sheriff Campaign
Republican Jaspen Bishop is running for Miami-Dade sheriff

Jaspen Bishop, Republican

Jaspen Bishop has only been on the Miami-Dade police force since he was hired in 2019, a relatively short amount of time compared to other candidates.

Since coming on board he has been involved with three use-of-force incidents — one per year — all of which happened in South Dade. In the meantime, no citizen complaints have been filed against him.

Jaspen has received a total of three commendations for his service. All of them were issued on the same day, in March of 2022.

WLRN will update this post if and when more records related to other candidates hit our inbox.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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