A uniformed Miami police officer was photographed sporting a protective mask with a pro-Trump slogan while on duty and voting at Government Center Tuesday morning.
The backlash from his department was swift.
Miami’s police chief, after seeing the photo posted on social media, said Officer Daniel Ubeda would be disciplined. Though exactly how had not been determined. The mayor also called the officer’s actions “inappropriate,” even if he was there to cast a ballot.
“It’s a violation of departmental orders. A police officer is supposed to be impartial,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said from City Hall Tuesday afternoon. “Irrespective of who the person was, whatever sign it would have been, it would’ve been problematic.”
The person who happened to spot Ubeda was the chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic party, Steve Simeonidis.
Simeonidis, an attorney who works downtown, said he was passing through Government Center when he spotted Ubeda “well within” the 150-foot barrier that police and campaigners are not permitted under state statute during an election if they are endorsing a candidate. He photographed the officer and tweeted about the encounter.
“He may have been going to vote. But he was in full uniform with the mask and a gun. That’s voter intimidation,” Simeonidis said.
Simeonidis said Ubeda “laughed it off” after he was questioned about the mask.
Deputy Police Chief Ron Papier said he spoke with Chief Jorge Colina and that the “appropriate disciplinary action” will be taken against Ubeda.
“Obviously this is a clear violation of our department policy regarding campaigning while on duty,” Papier said. “Additionally, the mask has offensive language, which is also a violation of department policy.”
The mask read “Trump 2020” and “no more bulls---” on its front.
Ubeda’s union representatives defended him, saying the officer was simply expressing his First Amendment right. Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes said Ubeda had just voted and was in Government Center for no more than 10 minutes when he was photographed. He also said Florida statute permits police to vote in uniform.
Said Reyes: “We would also like to state that the national FOP has endorsed President Donald Trump’s reelection.”
Simeonidis’s tweet and photograph quickly went viral, earning almost 100,000 impressions by mid-afternoon. Keon Hardemon, who is running for a Miami-Dade County commission seat, said the officer’s actions were the reason some people are “afraid” of the police.
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“It’s easy. No political speech in uniform. Whatsoever,” the former Miami commissioner posted on Twitter.
It also got national attention. Rick Wilson, a former field operations director in Florida during President George W. Bush’s run for office who is among a group of anti-Trump Republicans behind the Lincoln Project ad campaign, weighed in on Twitter.
“I think officer Ubeda wants to be famous,” Wilson said.
And police, whether on duty or not and like the public, are only permitted within 150 feet of a polling site if they are voting. Guns are also not permitted for the general public, concealed or otherwise, though there are exceptions to the statute for police.
On Monday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Police Chief Jorge Colina announced they were deploying plain-clothed officers near voting sites after receiving an unusually large amount of emails and messages from voters who they said were worried about violence and intimidation at any of Miami’s four voting sites.
Also Monday, an on-duty Hialeah police officer was spotted standing with his arms crossed at the entrance to the JFK Library, the city’s largest voting site. After seeing the photo, an election official said she called staff at the library and the officer had moved on.
Tampa Bay Times elections coverage
VOTER GUIDE: Access the Tampa Bay Times’ Know Your Candidates guide at tampabay.com/voterguide.
HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve compiled information on early voting locations, rules for voting by mail and more.
FELONY CONVICTION? Here are Florida’s rules for registering to vote.
POSTAL SERVICE CONCERNS: What’s going on with the U.S. Postal Service and should Florida be worried?
SIGN UP FOR ELECTION TEXT MESSAGES: Get voting information, news updates and ask political editor Steve Contorno questions about the candidates and issues, directly through your phone.
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.