George Floyd’s killing spurred revival of Miami-Dade police board. Why hasn’t it met?

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Douglas Hanks
·4 min read
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The killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis last year yielded one legislative legacy in Miami-Dade County: the passing of a contentious law reviving a civilian board to review police misconduct allegations.

Eight months later, inaction by Miami-Dade commissioners continues to leave the county without a police oversight board as most seats on the new panel remain empty. Commissioners must fill the 13 seats, and only five have made appointments, according to the county’s Office of Community Advocacy.

In February, Commissioner Sally Heyman appointed Pamela Perry, a lawyer and mediator, to her seat on the panel. Heyman said she didn’t want to wait to get her seat filled, given the public demand for the review panel last summer. She said she though more seats would be filled by now.

“For such interest and public outcry at the time, I’m surprised,” she said.

Part of the issue is a complex nominating system designed to give commissioners candidates from a committee created by boards representing different constituencies, such as the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board.

But the legislation passed in August allows commissioners to bypass a stalled nominating process and fill seats on their own for the newly authorized Independent Civilian Panel, which can review complaints against any county employee.

A March 30 memo showed that three commissioners had made their appointments: Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Commissioners René Garcia and Heyman. Since then, appointments have come from Commissioners Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto, according to Laura Morilla, director of the Community Advocacy office.

Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of the county’s Black Affairs Advisory Board, said he was disappointed to see Miami-Dade still without an oversight panel for the police department.

“I don’t want this to fall off everybody’s radar,” he said Wednesday. “I hope they won’t let spring turn into summer without some movement on this.”

Johnson also said he’s expecting more appointments to be announced shortly after the release of the memo detailing the stalled process. “We’re happy it’s moving along,” he said.

As written by then-commissioner Barbara Jordan, the law creating the Independent Civilian Panel laid out a nominating process designed to send commissioners appointment candidates from a committee staffed by nine county boards.

Eight of them — the Hispanic and Black affairs boards, plus the Asian American Advisory Board, Commission for Women, Community Relations Board, Elder Affairs Advisory Board, LGBTQ Advisory Board, and Military Affairs Advisory Board — named representatives to the nominating committee.

The required ninth seat remains empty for lack of an appointment from the Interfaith Advisory Board. That 27-seat panel was created in early 2020 and had only eight members appointed, leaving it well short of the quorum needed to conduct business.

So far, the bulk of the appointments have come from commissioners in office during last year’s debate. The November elections brought the departure of five term-limited commissioners, including Jordan, and a newcomer, Danielle Cohen Higgins, was appointed to Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s old commission seat in December. Of the six new commissioners, only Garcia had made an appointment to the review board as of Wednesday.

Filling the seats on the review panel was a flash point from the start of Jordan’s campaign to revive the board, which was idled in 2009 when the county cut its funding.

Legislation Jordan passed in 2018 gave appointment power to outside groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police. Then-Mayor Carlos Gimenez, now the Republican congressman from Florida’s 26th Congressional District, vetoed the ordinance.

Jordan revived her legislative push in the weeks after Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, in what a Minneapolis jury ruled Tuesday was a homicide by the arresting officer, Derek Chauvin. Commissioners passed Jordan’s legislation in July, this time with each commissioner able to fill one seat on the panel.

Gimenez vetoed that legislation, too, objecting to the panel having subpoena power for county employees. Voting with Jordan was Levine Cava, then a commissioner.

In August, Gimenez agreed to support a watered-down bill by Jordan with limits on a subpoena power that was already off-limits for police, who are shielded by state law from mandatory appearances before civilian boards.

Along with Perry, the current appointees are: Christian Aquino, Souto’s appointee and an engineer; Luis Fernandez, an investigator with the federal public defender’s office and Diaz’s appointee; Jeannett Slesnick, Sosa’s appointee and a former Coral Gables commissioner; and Clemente Vera, Garcia’s appointee, and a builder and volunteer for the Parks and Police 4 Kids charity in Doral.

More appointments should be coming soon. Commissioner Oliver Gilbert’s office said Wednesday he’s appointing lawyer Loreal Arscott to the panel. Commissioner Eileen Higgins said in a statement Wednesday that she won’t be waiting any longer for nominations from the community boards.

“I opted to receive nominations because to me that is the most open and transparent option,” Higgins said. “It’s unfortunate that the process was not initiated. That’s why I will move to make a direct appointment.”

This article was updated to correct the name of Laura Morilla, director of Miami-Dade’s Community Advocacy office.