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More than four years after the contentious battle to unseat Hialeah, Fla., Mayor Raul Martinez failed, two city police officers have filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that they have been subjected to political retaliation for supporting the mayor’s rival in the 1997 election. Hialeah police Lt. Luis Alberto Diaz and his brother, Sgt. Hector Ruben Diaz, last week filed a civil rights suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, alleging that Martinez denied their promotions in February 2002 because they had supported former councilman and Miami ad executive Herman Echevarria. The brothers also contend that Martinez has selectively denied promotions to several other police officers who opposed his re-election campaign. “Raul Martinez has retaliated for the past four-plus years against those who supported his opponent in the 1997 mayoral election and who most recently passed over both Diaz brothers for promotion to captain and lieutenant,” according to the lawsuit. In the complaint, the two brothers are seeking unspecified damages and to have the court promote Luis to captain and Hector to lieutenant. “The First Amendment protects political activity,” said the Diazes’ attorney, William R. Amlong of Amlong & Amlong in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “And yet, because of their political activity in 1997, the two officers have been told it is the end of their careers.” In response, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez defended his decision not to promote the two officers and denied that political retribution was at work in his decision-making. “I did not retaliate against anybody,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “I appoint based on performance and experience. … They have to get a life. I don’t think about the 1997 election anymore.” The mayor said that the Diaz brothers’ political activities did not play a part in his decision and that he has promoted several other former Echevarria supporters within the police force since the election. According to the complaint, which was filed on March 28, Hector Diaz ranked third in the lieutenant’s test given to eligible police officers in 1999, yet was passed over by individuals ranked fourth, fifth and sixth. Amlong added that Hector Diaz retook the test and ranked No. 2 last week. Similarly, Luis Diaz ranked first in late 1999 among officers who took the captain’s exam, but has been twice passed over, first in May 2000, when the No. 2 candidate was promoted, and then in February, when the third, fourth and sixth ranking officers were all promoted ahead of him. On Feb. 22, according to the complaint, when the Diaz brothers asked for an explanation for not being promoted, Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolanos responded in writing that “no specific reason existed for the pass over in the promotions recently completed Feb. 17, 2002.” For his part, Martinez said that the written tests given to police officers may rank the officers, but the tests are not the only factor in determining a promotion. “The mayor has the right to appoint from the top candidates. That is the system and that is the way it has been for 75 years,” said Martinez. “My decision is based on who I think can serve the city best.” Hialeah city government operates under the strong-mayor system, where the elected mayor is the chief executive of the city. Municipal policy gives the mayor and police chief wide latitude in promoting officers from among those who perform best on city exams. The 1997 Hialeah mayoral race between Martinez and Echevarria was a particularly hard-fought campaign. It pitted the likes of U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, a former Martinez protege, who supported Echevarria against the incumbent mayor. According to Amlong, the Diaz brothers were particularly vocal supporters of Echevarria. In the complaint, the Diaz brothers argue that upon his re-election in 1997, Martinez immediately made it clear that political retaliation would ensue, declaring on election night: “The olive branch is dry. I have been betrayed many times.” Such political retaliation, they allege, was demonstrated in March 1998 when Martinez did not promote police officer Rafael Gracia to lieutenant. According to the complaint, Martinez told Gracia that he was not being promoted because the mayor had heard that Gracia’s wife had made negative comments about him during the election. Additionally, in outlining their claim that political revenge was behind the decision to not promote the Diaz brothers in February, the plaintiffs not only point to the comments of Martinez, but also their boss, Hialeah Police Chief Bolanos. They allege that Bolanos told another police officer, Samuel Ramos, that he would likely not be promoted because he supported Echevarria. In the lawsuit, Ramos quoted the police chief as saying: “Look at [Luis Diaz]. He would have been a captain in this department, but he got involved in politics.” The Diaz brothers also allege in the complaint that Bolanos told a meeting of sergeants that officers Samuel Ramos and Serfin Daniels were not being promoted because “they played the politics card and they have to pay the price.” Such tough talk, the Diaz brothers assert in their lawsuit, was later directed at them by Bolanos when he told other police officers, “There is no one who can save them.” Bolanos did not return phone calls seeking comment. Attempts were also made to reach Gracia, Ramos and Daniels. It was unclear why the other officers have not filed suit. Amlong said they had “lesser degree of complaints.” Martinez, who said he had not read the complaint, picked holes in the lawsuit by pointing out that the person who he promoted over Rafael Gracia was Carlos Miguel Hernandez — also an Echevarria supporter in 1997. “Carlos Hernandez ran on Herman’s slate for City Council,” said Martinez. The lawsuit appears to have caught the city by surprise. According to Hialeah City Attorney Bill Grodnick, who declined to comment on the lawsuit because he has not seen the complaint, the Police Benevolent Association’s collective bargaining agreement with the city outlines a binding arbitration process to be followed in situations like the Diaz brothers’ lawsuit. According to Grodnick, the Diaz brothers and another officer, Carlos Zayas, all filed grievances after they did not receive promotions in February. Zayas’ grievance, said Grodnick, is on separate grounds. According to Amlong, however, the grievance claim is being abandoned in favor of the civil rights claim in state court. Amlong said that he will initially seek a preliminary injunction against the city to have each officer promoted. “Luis is the No. 1 ranked officer on the captain list and Hector is now No. 2 on the lieutenant list, yet each person’s career is going nowhere,” said Amlong. “These are both bright, young men who have tested well and kept their noses clean. Why shouldn’t they be promoted?”

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