Police union presidential candidate got 20-hour pay suspension after pulling gun while off duty
A candidate for president of one of Miami’s largest police unions was placed on a nearly year-long suspension this February, but for a long time, the Miami Police Department (MPD) wouldn't confirm why.
Sgt. Thomas Reyes is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), an organization which bargains with the City of Miami on behalf of MPD officers and defends officers accused of misconduct.
But early this year, Reyes was the one under investigation. In February, Reyes had his wallet and police badge stolen by a man he met on a dating app in Tallahassee — a man he later pointed a gun at and allegedly forced to the ground. Tallahassee Police's report on the incident was redacted and MPD refused to comment on the ensuing Internal Affairs case.
Now, documents obtained by WLRN show Reyes was offered a reduced punishment by the MPD Chief of Police: 20 hours of unpaid suspension, half the amount recommended by IA. One local civil rights attorney believes the decision creates a "bad perception" of the police department.
Speaking to WLRN, Reyes insists he had the right to "stand [his] ground" and, having served his suspension, he is now campaigning to maintain his leadership at the FOP against controversial former MPD captain Javier Ortiz.
I have the right to stand my ground ... When I'm in fear for my safety, I'm allowed to defend myselfSgt. Thomas "Tommy" Reyes
According to Reyes’ official reprimand, the union chief was off duty in Tallahassee on Jan. 15 to attend a legislative meeting as part of his FOP responsibilities. While there, he met with a man named Sergio Rodriguez, who Tallahassee police described as a “young Hispanic male.”
Though not mentioned in Reyes’ reprimand, a redacted incident report from the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) stated that the men met on the dating app Grindr. Reyes is openly gay.
Their names are absent from the incident report, but Reyes confirmed to Miami New Times that he was the subject of the report, while the reprimand from MPD corroborates various elements of the report's narrative.
Reyes and Rodriguez met at a Hampton Inn & Suites and, after a "sexual encounter," Rodriguez stole the police sergeant’s wallet — which contained his police badge and credentials — according to the incident report. Rodriguez told TPD he was afraid that Reyes would “mess with him” so he took the wallet to use as "blackmail."
Rodriguez then messaged Reyes on Grindr that he had the wallet, and told him he would return it if Reyes agreed to take him on a shopping spree, according to the TPD incident report.
“Messages between Sergeant Reyes and Mr. Rodriguez were exchanged that show Mr. Rodriguez agreed to return the wallet to Sergeant Reyes, only if Sergeant Reyes took him shopping. Sergeant Reyes agreed,” reads the MPD reprimand.
After Rodriguez spent over $1,000 on Reyes’ credit card at Best Buy, the two met up in the hotel parking lot and got into Rodriguez’ car, according to the TPD incident report. After a brief interaction, Reyes pulled out a firearm, pointed it at Rodriguez and told him to get on the ground. Rodriguez later told TPD that Reyes placed a knee on his back and pressed his weight on him.
“[Rodriguez] had injuries which consisted of scrapes to his left knee and left elbow and a wound to the top of his head which had dried blood on it,” TPD stated in the report.
No charges filed in Tallahassee
Reached by WLRN over the phone, Reyes said he was within his rights to use his firearm to defend himself in the midst of being victimized.
"I have the right to stand my ground and defend myself as a human being in this country. When I'm in fear for my safety, I'm allowed to defend myself," Reyes said.
TPD was called to the scene only after Reyes retrieved his wallet and Rodriguez fled from him on foot. Reyes told MPD he didn’t think to call police before he met Rodriguez in the parking lot because he was in “victim mode,” according to the narrative of events in his reprimand.
No charges were filed against Reyes in Tallahassee.
Reyes asserted to Internal Affairs that he feared Rodriguez because the latter said he’d have someone following him, but the investigator in charge of his case said Reyes’ behavior proved otherwise.
“The investigation revealed that even though Sergeant Reyes stated he was in fear when he pointed the handgun at Mr. Rodriguez, his actions contradict his fear,” the Internal Affairs investigator wrote. “There was no justifiable reason to point his firearm and there is no indication he was coerced to go inside Mr. Rodriguez's vehicle.”
His actions contradict his fear. There was no justifiable reason to point his firearmInternal Affairs report
Internal Affairs stated in their write-up that Reyes was guilty of administrative misconduct for violating several departmental orders, including rules against unjustified use of a firearm and behaving in a way that discredits the agency. A disciplinary review board recommended Reyes be reprimanded and serve 40 hours of suspension.
Reyes contends that it's impossible for him to be guilty of "administrative misconduct" because he was off duty, and did not do anything wrong during the course of his police work. He noted on his disciplinary document that he disputes the facts as stated by the investigator and disagreed with the recommended penalty.
A reprimand and a suspension
However, the final decision on an officer’s discipline comes down to MPD Chief Manuel Morales. In his reprimand, he agreed that Reyes should have called police before and added he should have better secured his ID and badge. But he noted Reyes was a "victim" himself and had a mostly clean disciplinary history.
“[Regarding] the utilization of his privately owned firearm, Sergeant Reyes was the victim of a felonious crime and was advised by the offender that he would not be alone once he returned to the scene. I do not find evidence to sustain a charge of misconduct,” Morales wrote.
The union chief was ultimately reprimanded and put on 20-hour unpaid suspension on Nov. 17. MPD provided the record of Reyes’ reprimand to WLRN last week.
Melba Pearson, a civil rights attorney who has investigated cases of police misconduct, said that by contradicting his own Internal Affairs division, Chief Morales feeds the image that MPD allows its officers to get away with breaking the rules.
“He's basically undermining his own IA department, and it’s giving a bad perception to the community who is constantly watching these shenanigans out of the City of Miami and is constantly just feeling frustrated that there's no accountability for officers in that department who act poorly,” Pearson tells WLRN.
Pearson admits, however, that the entire situation is unfortunate for Reyes, who she says should be justifiably frustrated by the circumstances he was involved in.
"What happened to him was not okay by any stretch of the imagination,” Pearson said. “But him actually pulling his gun took things to another level that, you know, unfortunately, I think was an error in judgment.”
Even with the reduced punishment, Reyes maintains it was inappropriate for him to be penalized at all. "I do not agree with the penalty. I was the victim of a crime," Reyes said.