The former Chief of Police of Opa-locka is now suing the city who says it let him go because of his lack of leadership. But James Dobson alleges political leaders were delving into police matters, especially when family members or those politically connected were involved.
Police body camera video NBC 6 obtained showed a woman the Opa-locka officer writing the report identified as Ramona Pigatt, who the city confirmed Wednesday is Mayor Matthew Pigatt’s cousin. The officer cited Ramona Pigatt for not wearing a seat belt, violations with her tag, registration, and no proof of insurance.
The woman is heard asking for the officer's name and badge number and where it's located on the paperwork.
The body cam video was recorded on Aug. 13. The next day, Dobson was fired.
“It’s hurtful—hurtful. It’s sad,” the former chief exclusively told NBC 6. He says he was treated unfairly. “This is tough for me. I give my heart and soul to the people in the communities that I have served throughout my career, and in the last six years -- five years 10 months -- it's been within the community of Opa-locka."
The city said a report done by Miami-Dade and in a statement Wednesday that "Former Chief James Dobson's termination was unequivocally in response to the assessment report. These findings included ... absent leadership, a scarcity of strategy and planning in guiding the department's day-to-day operations, the increased crime rate, and the overall lack of progress. To continue under this leadership in public safety would have been ...detrimental to the well-being of the citizens of Opa-locka."
But Dobson and his lawyer Michael Pizzi say the report address problems before he was in charge, and point to the traffic stop as a perfect example of political interference. The officer wrote his supervisor after the stop, saying, "I was conducting a traffic detail ... the driver Ramona Pigatt was not not wearing her safety belt. Ms. Pigatt on scene advised she will have my badge, and kept asking for my name."
Pizzi says Dobson was let go hours after telling the City Manager the officer wouldn’t be disciplined.
“He backed up the police officers when they did their job. He refused to cave to political interference and they fired him,” Pizzi said. “He refused to engage in corrupt activities in the City Of Opa-locka. He refused to let them interfere in writing tickets, in investigating crime, in personnel matters."
Dobson disagrees with the city’s assessment that police in Opa-locka aren’t improving.
“The community and the police growing together and that's what we tried to do and that’s what we did while I was there is to continue to bring community serviced police to that city,” Dobson said.
In his legal action, Dobson is seeking $4 million and claims the city violated the state’s Whistleblower Statute by retaliating against him because he would tell politicians to stay in their lane.