Miami-Dade Sheriff candidate distances himself from brother’s DUI controversy: ‘My brother is his own person’
After a 27-year career with the Miami-Dade Police Department that saw him lead many units and operations, Mario Knapp says he's well-suited to the returning county Sheriff job. Image via Mario Knapp.

Mario Knapp SS
'My brother is a grown adult. This has nothing to do with me or my office whatsoever.'

Miami-Dade Sheriff candidate Mario Knapp says his campaign and record of service shouldn’t be marred by new reporting that his police officer brother unjustly eluded a drunk driving investigation due to in-department favors.

“My brother is a 52-year-old man with kids, a senior person,” Knapp, a retired Miami-Dade Police Major, told Florida Politics.

“This has nothing to do with me. My brother is his own person.”

Knapp added that he hadn’t learned of the incident until “a year after it happened” and thought the allegations had been investigated and found groundless.

NBC 6 reported Tuesday that Miami-Dade Police officer Willy Knapp, Mario Knapp’s brother, rear-ended the vehicle of a woman and her teenage son. More than 18 months later, there is little to show police investigated their claim that he was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

The incident occurred on the evening of Oct. 1, 2022. By this week, the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) still had not released the crash report or records NBC 6 requested in December.

The Department said an internal investigation is ongoing.

Body camera footage MDPD handed over last month shows the responding officer, Anthony Santillan, and a then-police recruit behaving chummily with Willy Knapp, who was one of the recruit’s instructors.

After going to a post-charity softball celebration at a Kendall area restaurant and bar with the recruit, other officers and his wife, MDPD Maj. Vanessa Holden-Knapp, Willy Knapp left the establishment in his 2022 Jeep SUV.

Shortly thereafter, he rear-ended a 2010 Lexus IS3 that was stopped at a red light.

The car’s driver was 16-year-old driver, whom NBC 6 referred to as RJ. His mother, Julie Samalot, arrived on the scene after the crash.

No one was injured. The video shows damage to the Lexus’ right bumper. But RJ said Knapp offered him cash to not call the police. The mother and son told police it was “very obvious” Knapp was drunk.

The teen said Knapp couldn’t stand straight and at one point fell on him. Samalot said Knapp kept dropping his phone.

The video shows Samalot and RJ expressing concerns about Knapp’s sobriety to Santillan, who does not appear to respond to their comments. The recruit ultimately drove Knapp home.

Santillan’s report included no mention of suspected alcohol use, but noted Knapp’s vehicle had a tag five months past expiration. He wrote that Knapp was at fault for the crash, but did not cite him for following RJ too closely or the expired tag.

Because there was no DUI investigation, no proof exists to either confirm or refute RJ and Samalot’s assertions that Knapp was intoxicated.

Mario Knapp said Tuesday that he hadn’t looked into the issue himself because, by the time it occurred, he’d been away from the Department for more than a year. He retired in August 2021 after 27 years with MDPD, shortly after leading the initial post-incident operations of the Surfside condo collapse recovery effort.

Asked what he would have done as Sheriff if the case involving his brother crossed his desk, Knapp said he didn’t have enough information.

“I have no clue what happened in the case or what didn’t happen in the case, only what I read. To my understanding, this was investigated by internal affairs and it was found to be not sustained,” he said. “Now how that investigation occurred, I don’t know. I didn’t find out about this until a year after it happened. I was out of the Department for over a year, probably about a year and a half, when this occurred.”

He suggested that reporting on the incident now, long after it took place and while he is a leading candidate for Sheriff, is meant to damage his campaign.

“If you look at the timing of this report, what does that represent?” he said.

“This is a case that according to, again, what I’m reading, was open-and-close months ago. I don’t know enough about the case to say anything other than that. My brother is a grown adult. This has nothing to do with me or my office whatsoever.”

Retired Miami-Dade Police Maj. Mario Knapp (second from left) and his brother, officer Willy Knapp (far right). Image via Meta.

As Florida Politics reported in February, Mario Knapp and MDPD Maj. John Barrow are both advocating for the creation of a public corruption unit to investigate potentially unscrupulous officials.

Barrow said he plans to establish a unit on Day 1 to “root out corruption and help restore residents’ faith in their elected leaders and local government.”

Knapp said he envisions a far-reaching operation capable of conducting internal affairs probes of local law enforcement and investigations of county and city officials and employees.

“If there is an allegation that someone is corrupt,” he said, “then there needs to be an independent vehicle ready to investigate.”

Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust Executive Director Jose Arrojo said a public corruption unit would be a boon to his agency’s efforts to hold officials accountable.

“I would welcome the establishment of a Public Corruption Unit in the Sheriff’s Office dedicated to addressing malfeasance by elected officials,” he told Florida Politics by email.

“Also, in my opinion, and based on my experience as a prosecutor and ethics compliance officer, I would think that local, state, and federal inspectors general, auditors, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors would also be supportive of the proposal.”

Mario Knapp is one of 17 candidates, including 12 fellow Republicans and four Democrats, running to be Miami-Dade’s first elected Sheriff since the 1960s.

In March, the nonprofit Hispanic Police Officers Association voted overwhelmingly to endorse him over 11 other candidates. The race’s fundraising front-runner, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Sanchez, said he was not invited to participate.

The October 2022 crash involving Willy Knapp occurred under the leadership of former Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez, who was widely considered a shoo-in for the returning Sheriff job until his attempted suicide last July.

Ramirez resigned his post and dropped out of the Sheriff race last year, but returned to the Department in November in an advisory role that still permitted him to carry a firearm. Miami-Dade Public Safety Chief James Reyes, whom Mayor Daniella Levine Cava recruited the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in early 2023 to run the county Corrections Department, now oversees MDPD and is also running for Sheriff.

Florida Politics requested an interview with Willy Knapp through Mario Knapp on Tuesday morning but did not receive a response by press time.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Ocean Joe

    April 9, 2024 at 6:49 pm

    RJ learned how the real world works.
    Glad nobody got hurt, the law deforcement would have screwed up the civil suit.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704