In the late 1980s, Tyrone White was a young cop assigned as a resource officer at Norland High. Stern and physically imposing, the former college football player nevertheless became a popular figure, connecting with students over sports.
At the school’s police explorers program, White pushed students to consider jobs in law enforcement — and many of them did.
“Tyrone was an influential mentor for us,” said Miami-Dade Lt. Steve Czyzewski, a Norland High graduate who later wound up working under White on the streets of what is now Miami Gardens. “I can name five, maybe even 10, students in high school that all became police officers.”
Over the decades, as White worked his way through the ranks, he continued that mentoring. One of Miami-Dade’s most senior and decorated Black officers, he relentlessly pushed younger cops to seek promotions, even as he hit a ceiling in his own career.
“For a lot of the minorities, we looked up to him,” said Miami-Dade Lt. Chuck Johnson, of the Northside District. ”There’s not many of us.”
White, most recently a captain with Miami-Dade’s Special Victims Bureau, died Sunday afternoon in a two-car crash in Cooper City. He was 59, and his death stunned current and retired officers with the county’s largest police department.
His wife, Lisa White, was driving a 2014 Volkswagen Passat, with her husband in the passenger seat. The car was making a left turn onto Southwest 118th Avenue, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, when it was struck by a white Subaru traveling east.
The Passat hit a curb and flipped over. Lisa White suffered “life-threatening” injuries, deputies said, and remains in critical condition at Memorial Regional Hospital.
The white Subaru caught on fire after hitting a traffic-control box. The driver, Daniel Chamberlin, 32, had minor injuries, police said.
White’s death became national news because of his son: James White is a key running back for the New England Patriots, and was slated to play on Sunday night.
But Tyrone White had his own legacy in law enforcement and success on the football field as well. White was a football player for the Hialeah-Miami Lakes High football team that went to the state semifinals in 1978. He later played at Florida A&M, before joining the police department in 1983. Within the department, White was well-known for his athletic prowess and love of football.
In January 1987, he starred in the Pig Bowl, an annual charity football game between Miami-Dade and the city of Miami police departments. He ran back an 80-yard kickoff for a touchdown to beat the city.
“If Tyrone White were a bandit, the city of Miami Police Department might never catch him,” the Miami Herald wrote.
White’s love of athletics was a connection point between him and students at Norland High, where he was a school resources officer in the late 1980s. “He was very firm and stern — but a lot of the kids took to him because you could see, behind all of that, he was a great man, a good-hearted gentle giant,” Czyzewski said.
Miami-Dade homicide detective Rich Raphael, another Norland graduate from that era, also credited White.
“He was one of the reasons I became a police officer,” Raphael said. “Back then, kids didn’t run away from cops. He was community policing at its finest.”
For years, White ran a police flag football team, often bringing his sons, Tyrone Jr. and James, to practices when they were young. Even as he aged, he competed in police charity “Olympic” sporting events across Florida.
“There wasn’t a sport he couldn’t play,” said Miami-Dade Capt. Elise Dillard, of the Northwest District. “He had a huge impact on basketball in the 40-and-over league for the Olympics.”
His involvement in the charity football team wound up costing him his rank.
White was fired in 2013 after the department’s internal affairs unit said he inappropriately used his his computer during work hours to coordinate activities for the unofficial charity flag football team. He had also been accused of misappropriating $22,000 in donations from the Miami Dolphins to the team. He denied the claim and prosecutors found no criminal wrongdoing.
Saying the investigation into him was illegal, White sued the county in 2013 and got his job back, at the rank of captain. But he was never promoted again. In 2018, White filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the county over his lack of a promotion. The lawsuit was ongoing, according to court records.
“In my conversations with Tyrone, he had no plans for retirement anytime soon, and intended to continue to serve his community well into the future,” said his lawyer, Brian Pollock.
Many around the department still called him “Major.”
“He never bad-mouthed the department. He never said a bad word,” Lt. Johnson said. “He was the consummate professional.”
Over the decades, White worked in a wide array of assignments, many in the high-profile bureaus: homicide, robbery and warrants.
Coworkers said White was a sharp-eyed administrator who had high standards, right down to the minutia of writing police reports.
“He did not accept mediocrity,” said Miami-Dade Maj. Sam Bronson, adding: “If his name was going to be on a document, he wanted it to be the best.”
Said Dillard: “He was a fierce stand-up guy. If you wanted the truth, he could be brutally honest.”
Even in the most challenging of times, White exuded calm, coworkers said.
In 2011, White was the head of the warrants bureau when two detectives, Amanda Haworth and Roger Castillo, were shot to death while trying to arrest a fugitive in North Miami-Dade. The killer, Johnny Simms, was shot by police moments later.
White helped organize memorials and the funeral. His flag football organization also held a tournament for the two detectives, and the group later donated $2,500 to a trust fund for relatives of slain officers.
He remained stoic through the long days and nights following the murders, said Bronson, then sergeant in warrants. One late night, with the office mostly empty, Bronson finally saw White sobbing in his office.
“He held his composure all throughout those long days,” said Bronson, now of the Northwest Bureau. “He held it all together but at night, he broke down like the rest of us.”
Miami Herald staff writer David J. Neal contributed to this report.