‘Commanding presence’ assumes control at OPD
As a rule, John Mina always arrives early.
When the officer showed up early for his off- duty shift at Orlando Ale House in 2000, he walked into an armed robbery, finding himself between a masked suspect’s pistol and the employees he was trying to protect.
Mina coolly calculated he had one choice and pulled the trigger, killing the teen. Later, he was stoic and quiet with his friend Officer Dave Vernon.
“I remember telling him, ‘He was the right man in the right place at the right time,’ “Vernon recalled. “He was the right guy.”
Now he’s the top guy: OPD’s
Get to know more about new OPD Chief John Mina at Orlando Sentinel.com.
On that night in 2000, Mina was in the nightmare scenario that all officers train for but few ever face.
In those few seconds and in that perilous place, he made the dangerous decision with the steely composure and uncompromising conviction that has come to define his policing, friends said.
Fourteen years later, the now 45-year- old veteran officer faces a different but similarly complex chall enge: l eading Central Florida’s largest police agency.
Orlando police Chief Paul Rooney, who is taking a new job at Valencia College, picked Mina as his replacement as t he city grows, budgets tighten and problems erupt.
Mina is already doing the job, even though his swearing- i n ceremony isn’t until next month.
“Mina’s got that commanding presence,” Rooney said. “He knows how to make the tough decision for all the right reasons.”
Since the day he put on the uniform in 1991, Mina has worked in nearly every sector of the police department, from everyday patrol to handling administrative duties to working with city government.
While riding the streets with Vernon, his former partner, Mina earned a reputation for never forgetting a face and being the “runner” — chasing suspects on foot for as long as it took.
“We rode together and it got to the point where you know what the other guy is thinking,” said Vernon, who is now a Winter Garden police detective. “We had a blast and a lot of bad guys went to jail.”
Police work is all Mina ever wanted to do but it started with an accident, he said.
Mina’s mother was involved in a minor crash with he and his two brothers back in New Jersey where they grew up. Being helped by the officers and riding in the police car left an impression on young Mina.
After high school, he joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as a military policeman. While on leave at home, Mina met and married his wife and was eager to join the state police.
But a hiring freeze made that impossible at the time, said Mina’s father-in-law Robert Deghetto, a retired New Jersey state trooper.
While Mina was back at Fort Bragg, N.C., though, he learned Orlando police recruiters were looking for a few good candidates. Mina applied, “and it’s a good thing he did,” Deghetto said.
Rooney watched Mina grow into a SWAT unit leader who oversaw 400 patrol officers.
During SWAT training, he ran faster and longer t han anyone el s e and trained his officers until they were tactically immaculate.
Lunch is a pain for anyone who’s eaten with Mina because he always finishes his meal before other officers can get in four bites, his friends joke. He blames his Army training.
Mina never says much but when he opens his mouth, people listen, colleagues said.
That’s the man deputy Chief Jeff O’Dell of the Kissimmee Police Department remembers when they worked side-by-side in drug enforcement and with the criminal-investigations unit.
“You could always count on him to do the right thing,” said O’Dell, who was just one of several higher- ups who recognized a leader in Mina early and promoted him up t he ranks quickly. “There wasn’t any hesitation from us to push him into a variety of units.”
St. Cloud Police Chief Pete Gauntlett, who retired from OPD, said Mina’s patience makes him expertly qualified to protect a city with a global profile and diverse population.
“There are daily challenges, community impact and controversies all police chiefs face,” he said. “You have to be flexible, adaptable and resilient.”
Mina has already been handed his first test. Three weeks before a missing woman was found dead inside her submerged vehicle, Orlando police received a call about a car going into the pond.
But when officers arrived, they didn’t find the car.
Carline Brumaire Jean’s family filed a missing-person report to the Orange County Sheriff ’s Office, but OPD was unaware of the report and officers left the scene when they found nothing suspicious. Last week, hotel security spotted a hubcap near bushes and l ocated Brumaire Jean’s vehicle.
An internal investigation is underway.
“Every chief has their time and their issues and he can’t do it like Paul Rooney, [Val] Demings or like I did it,” said former OPD Chief Michael McCoy. “He’s got to do it like John Mina does it.”
Mina faced the television cameras with his trademark military precision, answering probing questions directly and extending his sympathies toward the victim’s family.
“He is committed to treating people with dignity and respect and holding his people accountable,” McCoy said.
But for all the praise Mina receives from his coll eagues, t here i s one phrase he thinks suits him better than any other: “armed professional.”
“If my house is being broken into and I could call anybody to handle it, I’d call John Mina,” Vernon said.