After the Orlando Police Department recently released its annual report, it was discovered that an officer who was accused of making a racist comment and twice sued for excessive force was named officer of the year. Now, Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolón is reviewing the way the department gives out yearly honors.
Officer Jonathan Mills got the award, which recognizes his 2018 accomplishments, in February, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The ODP report says Mills was honored “for being the most proactive member of his squad” as well as leading and motivating fellow cops. Yet in 2017, the officer settled two excessive force lawsuits that same year for a total of $130,000 paid out by the city. Plus Mills faced disciplinary action in 2016 when he made what was deemed a racist comment by a member of the Orlando Police Citizens Review Board.
“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 told the newspaper when asked about why Mills got an award after his actions two years ago. “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.”
The officer of the year honor states it goes to the police officer who demonstrates “outstanding job performance, dedication to duty, unsullied moral character, exceptional community service and professional police image.”
But Mills’ character in the three incidents in question are ostensibly not in line with those values.
In 2016, Mills was reassigned from the department’s elite tactical squad to patrol when he demeaned a Black woman’s hair during a traffic stop in March. He was also given an oral reprimand.
“That hairdo is sad. You’ve got to get your hair done, girl,” Mills was captured telling the woman he and Officer James Hyland stopped on suspicion that she was attempting to buy drugs. The Sentinel reported Mills also told onlookers that they did not know how to buy a home and his dwelling is “bigger than these two buildings combined.”
After a review, Internal Affairs decided Mills violated the department’s policy on conduct toward the public. Then-Chief John Min also assigned Mills to sensitivity training.
Board members did not feel his punishment of oral reprimand and reassignment was severe enough.
“I’m concerned as a citizen that you have a police officer that makes these comments, which I believe were racist, still patrolling the streets,” board member Henry Lim told the Sentinel at the time. “It poses a danger to the community and the police force as well.”
The next year saw the city settling two lawsuits that February over accusations that Mills went overboard with men during traffic stops.
During a 2014 incident, a man claimed Mills put his hand down the back of his trousers and sexually assaulted him as the officer searched for drugs. Documents obtained by the newspaper reveal the man reached an $80,000 settlement with Orlando. In a 2013 traffic stop, a man accused Mills of slamming him to the ground for no reason. The city said the man received $50,000.
However, the city of Orlando said the payouts were not an admission of guilt. Mills, meanwhile, affirmed he acted appropriately in both instances.
“If he received this award, what message is OPD sending to the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve?” Caila Coleman, vice president of the Orlando Citizens Police Review Board, said to the newspaper of Mill’s honor, which will not be rescinded. “I would like to believe there are other officers who were better qualified to receive such a prestigious title. Officers who have not had substantiated complaints with internal investigations for misconduct towards citizens, and blatant racism.”