August 12, 2022
Fired Miami detective intends to sue, says he was forced out for whistle-blowing on dirty cop
By Charles Rabin
A former Miami police detective intends to sue the city, saying he has been fired twice, ridiculed by supervisors and harassed by other officers, who have left him threatening notes and even stuck condoms on his car.
The reason, according to a whistle-blower lawsuit notice filed by 24-year veteran Al Matias: He says that he has been treated as a pariah for the better part of a decade for cooperating in a sting operation that sent a dirty cop to prison in a case involving stolen money and cocaine peddling.
“Matias has been railroaded in the city for several years now,” said his attorney, Michael Pizzi. “It’s vindictive and retaliatory nitpicking.”
The latest firing came on Jan. 27 and both terminations, according to his attorney, were related to his role in a 2012 undercover investigation of former Sgt. Raul Iglesias. Working with investigators, Matias had at one point led Iglesias — then his supervisor — to a shoe box filled with money inside a vehicle with a hidden camera.
Iglesias was indicted the following year by the federal government on charges that he violated a suspect’s civil rights, intended to sell cocaine and obstructed justice by making false statements to investigators. After a two-week trial, he was found guilty of several charges including civil rights violations and possession of cocaine with intent to sell. He eventually spent four years in prison.
Though Matias didn’t testify during the trial, his partner, Luis Valdes, did. Valdes later claimed that both officers were harassed and threatened during the trial and that his firing in 2015 for allegedly lying on an arrest form was simply retaliation for turning on another cop. Matias also lost his job that same year, with the city saying he lied about an undercover drug buy on an affidavit.
Matias returned to work in early 2016 after arbitrator James Reynolds found internal affairs didn’t have enough facts to fire him and called his termination “not fair.”
“The city has not shouldered its burden of persuasion that he is guilty of the charges against him. It is likely that the city may have suffered adverse public reaction from the revelations related to Sgt. Iglesias’s wrongdoing,” Reynolds wrote. “That reaction, however, cannot be a basis for imposing discipline on Det. Matias, who had the unfortunate circumstance of being assigned to the same unit as Sgt. Iglesias and swept up in that investigation and the federal charges that ensued.”
Valdes never got his job back. In 2020 he sued the city, alleging corruption, conspiracy and cronyism in the police department. His lawsuit claimed police supervisors conspired against him for his testimony against Iglesias, who he claimed was close to the duo.
The Valdes lawsuit would lead to Matias’ second firing four months ago. As part of the suit, he filed an affidavit describing supervisors downplaying concerns about Iglesias and the decision by he and Valdes to write an anonymous complaint to internal affairs, which eventually brought in the FBI. He also outlined retaliation against both he and Valdes by fellow officers and commanders as a result of the case.
City attorney Stephanie Panoff flagged it, calling the part about retaliation from Matias “patently false,” and referred it to internal affairs.
The statement in question from Matias: “The arbitrator in my arbitration ruled that my termination, as well as Luis Valdes,’ was purely retaliatory due to my and Luis Valdes’ involvement in the Raul Iglesias case.”
City Manager Art Noriega, who signed off on the firing of Matias after an internal affairs investigation, said the officer violated a handful of policy rules, including gossip, conduct unbecoming an officer, making a false statement and not being truthful.
Asked to respond to the complaint, expected to be formally filed in July, the Miami city attorney’s office said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Pizzi, Matias’ attorney, said the second firing only underlined the culture of retaliation in the department.
“It’s highly unusual for an attorney defending the city to start a witch hunt against police officers who are witnesses against the city,” said Pizzi. “He’s a whistle-blower. Unfortunately, there’s still a mindset in the city about targeting people who come forward.”