KEY WEST, Fla. — The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office is combing through more than 150 criminal cases of black suspects arrested by Miami Beach police officers who wrote or received racist emails, the latest in a series of high-profile episodes around the nation that have raised troubling questions about the relations between the police and the communities they serve.
Two ranking officers at the Miami Beach Police Department sent about 230 emails that contained racist and sexist jokes and pornography from 2010-12, Chief Dan Oates announced Thursday. A former police captain, who had been demoted to lieutenant, was fired, and a major retired before the investigation was made public.
Fourteen other officers received the emails, the police department said.
The episode, which follows the release of racist or homophobic emails in Ferguson, Mo.; San Francisco; and Fort Lauderdale, adds another level of discord to the often-strained relations between the police and minority groups. Officers in Edison, N.J.; Seattle; Baton Rouge, La.; and Casselberry, Fla., have also been fired or disciplined over racist text and email messages, a wave that some experts believe indicates a culture in which officers are comfortable expressing racist views.
The episodes also raise questions about whether an officer’s flippant attitude about race manifests itself on the streets.
“This behavior serves to belittle the people that we serve,” Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade County state attorney, said at a news conference Thursday. “They belittle women, and they belittle minorities.”
A review of about a million emails showed that from 2010-12, the supervisors had forwarded racist memes and jokes mocking blacks, women, President Obama and Mexicans. One photo of a baby in a bassinet, purporting to put to rest questions about Mr. Obama’s place of birth, showed a baby in a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. One meme showed a “Black Monopoly” board game on which each square had a police officer directing the player to “go to jail.”
The state attorney’s office found that the officers involved were listed as witnesses in 540 cases, including 97 that are pending. The majority of the defendants were white or Hispanic.
In the 162 cases in which the defendant was listed as black, the state attorney’s office is conducting a review to determine whether the case relied solely on the testimony of an officer whose conduct is being called into question. The emails raise the possibility that prosecutors will have to reopen closed cases in which the officers played an important role, said the state attorney’s spokesman, Ed Griffith. “If there are indications of some kind of bias, if there is a pattern, then clearly we have to remedy that,” Mr. Griffith said.
Eugene G. Gibbons, a lawyer who represents the fired lieutenant, Alex Carulo, said his client’s dismissal was unfair, because the initial internal affairs investigation had been presented to a previous police chief two years ago. That chief, Raymond Martinez, had issued a written reprimand to the major, Angel Vasquez, and the emails stopped. Mr. Carulo was demoted last year when Mr. Oates took over, and this week he was fired.
Mr. Gibbons questioned the decision to release the emails just before Urban Beach Week, an annual hip-hop festival in Miami Beach overMemorial Day weekend, which has been marred by clashes between the police and partygoers. In 2011, eight Miami Beach police officers fired at a reckless driver, killing him and wounding several bystanders.
“It’s a powder keg for these people, and they self-created it,” Mr. Gibbons said.
Robert Jenkins, president of the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police, agreed. “The people who are coming on Memorial Day are not police-friendly,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Sometimes we feel there’s an attitude of ‘them and us,’ and this is going to add to the tensions.”
Mr. Gibbons stressed that dozens of people, including assistant chiefs and majors, had received or forwarded the offensive emails, which he said indicated widespread but harmless activity.
“That was the culture back then,” Mr. Vasquez, the retired major, told the local CBS channel last year. “It was just guys emailing each other. There was a good ol’ boy mentality back then.”
Delores Jones-Brown, director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that any criminal cases the officers touched were in jeopardy, because defense lawyers could impeach the credibility of any officer involved.
“You would want prosecutors to take the lead,” she said. “You’d have to look at the statute to see if the officers violated any harassment and hate crime statutes. If they did, they can be charged.”
The Broward County, Fla., state attorney’s office was forced to drop 11 felony cases, 23 misdemeanors and one juvenile case after four Fort Lauderdale police officers were caught sending racists texts, including some that used racial epithets to refer to suspects they chased. An officer also made a video trailer featuring actual police dogs and Ku Klux Klan imagery.
All of the defendants in the dropped cases were black, said Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the Broward County state attorney. In all of those instances, at least one of the four officers involved was the principal officer in the arrest, he said.
“This is a serious matter,” Mr. Ishoy said in an email. “Beyond the cases we’ve dropped, we continue to review other cases in which these former policemen were the principal officers involved in the arrest. We will drop charges against the defendants where it is appropriate.”
Howard Finkelstein, the Broward public defender, said the state attorney and police investigations did not go far enough. “Look at the numbers. How is it possible that in a city that is 31 percent black, 96 percent of the people stopped walking or biking are black? How is that even possible, statistically?”
His office is reviewing 45 of the officers’ cases.
“I can assure you that if people think the beating of black young men is funny, then they are willing to beat young black men, period, end of story,” Mr. Finkelstein said.
“It is not possible for an officer to use hate-filled language and humor, but only on his private time.”
Marsha Ellison, president of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the N.A.A.C.P., said the city had reprimanded only low-ranking officers and had not, for example, disciplined the K-9 officers who allowed their dogs to be used in the video.
“The city wants us to believe that a 22-year-old kid on the force for three years was the mastermind of all of this,” she said.
The three Fort Lauderdale officers who were fired are appealing their dismissals; one resigned. One of the fired men, Christopher Sousa, 25, said he had sent an apology to the N.A.A.C.P.
“I made a mistake, a huge one, and I am so sorry for it,” Mr. Sousa said. “I understand that some people will never forgive me.”
On Friday, the San Francisco district attorney’s office, which is reviewingsome 3,000 cases in which one of 14 officers who sent or received offensive texts was listed as the primary officer, said it had so far dismissed eight criminal cases.