The Orlando Police Department is under intense scrutiny after a police officer in the department who has been accused of racism and assault was named OPD’s patrol office of the year.
Officer Jonathan Mills received the award early this year “for being the most proactive member of his squad.” According to the department, the award’s requirements state that the recipient must display “outstanding job performance, dedication to duty, unsullied moral character, exceptional community service and professional police image.”
But Mills’ police record is anything with “unsullied.” Mills was reassigned from the department’s elite tactical squad to patrol after he told a black woman during a traffic stop, “That hairdo is sad. You’ve got to get your hair done, girl.”
Mills was also the subject of two excessive force lawsuits settled in 2017 that cast the city $130,000, reports the Orlando Sentinel. In one case a man claimed Mills sexually assaulted him while looking for drugs in his pants during a traffic stop in 2014. In the other case a man said Mills slammed him to the ground during a traffic stop in 2013. THe man’s injuries led to a hospital stay and three shoulder surgeries.
In both cases the city settled with the civilians without admitting any wrongdoing and the civilians were not charged with any violation of the law.
There’s more: a citizen review board referred to Mills’ behavior as “unprofessional and racist.” Caila Coleman, vice president of the Orlando Citizens Police Review Board, recalls being “shocked and taken aback” when she heard Mills’ “blatant racism.” Mills has been the subject of more than 15 civilian complaints between 2012 and 2015.
In the letter recommending Mills for the award, Sgt. David Baker wrote, “Ofc. Mills has proved consistently, and throughout the entire year, that he is deserving of this award. Ofc. Mills ranks highest in squad stats every month and is the most proactive officer on the Downtown Bikes Day shift squad.”
Baker referred to Mills’ past troubles as “adversity” writing, “Ofc. Mills has faced some adversity in his career but never became bitter or disheartened. He learned from his past, moved forward and became stronger.”
Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolón responded to public outrage by stating he is reviewing how the department hands out his awards.
“We routinely evaluate our policies and procedures and in this specific area, I decided that we need to improve our selection and evaluation process when it comes to awards,” Rolón said in a statement. “Going forward, I will be working with my command staff as we go through our awards policies and we will be implementing changes to those policies to ensure that the entire process is beyond reproach.”