More than 50 guns, a ‘hit list,’ a hostage standoff: How a Miami Federal judge’s life unraveled
AUG 30, 2018 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAR 2, 2021
For over a decade, Timothy Maher toiled in anonymity as a low-level administrative judge in Miami, deciding on federal disability payments for the poor who had fallen on hard times.
Outside of court, Maher’s own life was crumbling.
It began with arguments over childcare with an ex-girlfriend that devolved into bitter court fights, then an arrest for pointing a rifle at her and the revelation of a “hit list” of colleagues. It escalated into a police manhunt for a judge who had already had more than 50 weapons confiscated but was believed to have still more stashed away. It ended with a dramatic all-night standoff as Maher held a Homestead family hostage at gunpoint before turning the weapon on himself.
One week after Maher killed himself, a deeper story of his downfall has emerged in newly released police documents, internal law-enforcement emails and interviews.
The records show a troubled man who perceived enemies at every turn and frequently flaunted his position as a federal judge. They also reveal that authorities missed several opportunities to stop Maher, or at least get him psychological help that might have prevented his demise.
Maher, 51, spent the past decade hearing disability claims at the Social Security Administration office in downtown Miami. He said he spent 15 years working as a federal prosecutor, and also a senior counsel for the U.S. Treasury Department. Around his office, he was known as an avid Eagles fan and a devout Catholic with a sharp sense of humor.
“He was very bright, very respectful judge,” said one co-worker who asked not be named. “He was very proud and honored to be a judge. He took it very seriously. He cared about being a public servant.”
Maher was highlighted in a 2014 Washington Post story about the immense backlog in disability claims. From drug addicts to the chronically ill, Maher encountered a wide array of destitute people needing federal money.
Unbeknownst to coworkers, his life outside of the federal bureaucracy was unraveling.
In 2017, Maher claimed that his longtime neighbor, Carmela Alvarez, was stalking and threatening him. She even hurled rocks at his house and knocked a phone out of his hand, according to his petition. Maher went to court to seek a restraining order, which remains in effect today.
But it was his tempestuous relationship with his former live-in girlfriend, Kathy Rodriguez, that consumed Maher, according to court documents.
The friction centered around their son, who was born in July 2015. Two years later, after the couple split, Rodriguez filed a paternity petition and asked a court to help settle the growing acrimony.
Maher began sending “irrational statements and threats” in early 2017, she wrote. In her suit, Rodriguez included a series of berating emails in which Maher accused her of kidnapping their son. He also threatened to report her to prosecutors.
A time-sharing agreement was eventually hammered out but the acrimony continued.
In June 2018, Rodriguez went to court again, this time seeking a restraining order. Maher was “abusive verbally and psychologically” and “mentally unstable,” she alleged. Maher was “not taking his medication” and was abusing marijuana and alcohol, according to the petition.
Also included in the petition were a series of expletive-laced and unhinged text messages sent by Maher. “Stop going to church, f***ing hypocrite, when you finally crash and burn I will piss on your ashes,” said one text message.
But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Davis ruled that “there is no appearance of an immediate and present danger of domestic violence.” He denied the request for a restraining order.
A report of child abuse was also filed with the Florida Department of Children and Families, which sent an investigator to Maher’s home. Rodriguez, who declined to comment for this story, alleged that his El Portal home was unkempt, smelled of urine and their son was hurting himself. The probe closed with no action.
Maher, however, was incensed. He used his position to try to get help. Identifying himself as a federal judge, he emailed a contact at the State Attorney’s Office asking for “immediate intervention.” Rodriguez, he insisted, was on a campaign to “harass, intimidate and terrorize both me and my son.”
“I don’t want this matter to end up as a story in the Miami Herald where a child is harmed by someone who showed all the warning signs of mental instability. Please help,” he wrote.
J. Scott Dunn, the head of the office’s domestic violence unit, noted that Maher never actually alleged that the mother of his child had committed a crime. “Only a family court judge can remove a child from the custody of an allegedly unfit parent, so I strongly advised him to file such a petition in family court immediately,” Dunn wrote in an email to his superiors.
The former couple kept fighting in family court.
The strife boiled over on the night of Aug. 14. Rodriguez showed up to Maher’s house in the 100 block of Northwest 88th Street to pick up her son. Maher walked out carrying the crying boy in his left arm, a gun “holstered on his right hip,” according to a police report.
Rodriguez claimed that Maher shined a flashlight in her face and said: “I’m going to show you what pain is about.”
As she retreated to her car to call 911, Rodriguez told cops, she saw Maher walk out of the home with a “long barrel gun” and saw the illumination of a red laser pointer through her rear-view mirror.
Maher insisted he was innocent — although a neighbor’s video surveillance system backed up the woman’s claim.
That night, according to El Portal police, he refused to come out of the house for more than an hour. Chief Ronnie Hufnagel got him on the phone and finally persuaded him to walk outside onto the porch to talk.
“I was able to get close enough to him to grab his right arm in an attempt to take him into custody,” Officer J. Borrell wrote in his report. “The defendant pulled away and attempted to flee back inside his home, but I was able to regain control of his arm and re-directed him to [the] ground and took him into custody.”
Police charged Maher with aggravated assault with a firearm, child abuse with no great bodily harm and resisting an officer without violence. After a day in jail, Maher posted bond and returned to his house.
Remember folks, this is Fl. State Court(s).
“A judgeship is a position of trust, not a fiefdom. Litigants and attorneys should not be made to feel that the disparity of power between themselves and the judge jeopardizes their right to justice.” https://t.co/AdmBMWjiYm https://t.co/GC9YDg0yK7 pic.twitter.com/DnYn16Sg7b
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) March 2, 2021
He was required to turn in his guns to the El Portal police station. The next day, Aug. 16, he turned in 21 rifles, two handguns and one shotgun, as well holsters, scopes and loads of ammunition.
But El Portal police, along with detectives from the State Attorney Office’s public-corruption task force, also secured a search warrant to retrieve electronics from his home. That evening, the sobbing Maher again refused to open the door.
He called Chief Hufnagel, who noted his “irrational behavior and state of mind,” according to a police report. The chief summoned Miami-Dade’s Special Response Team, the heavily armed unit that specializes in dealing with people barricaded inside their homes.
“When he saw SRT, he came out,” Hufnagel told the Miami Herald. “We went ahead and searched the home, took out what the warrant was for.”
Inside, police seized a cache of weapons Maher failed to turn in: 10 rifles, 18 handguns and a shotgun.
El Portal police could have re-arrested him for minor charges such as resisting an officer without violence. They could have also committed him against his will for up to three days for a psychiatric evaluation under Florida’s Baker Act.
But a “supervisory decision” was made to not commit him under the Baker Act, according to a police report.
A couple of days later, his story took another twist when a friend, Fernando Mesa, walked into the El Portal police station with a harrowing tale. He said Maher hid a bag full of weapons and ammo from the cops, and later stashed them in a storage facility. Mesa later urged Maher to turn in the weapons.
On Aug. 19, Mesa went to Maher’s house to confront the judge after he found an AK-47 missing from the storage facility.
“Mr. Maher became very angry and began to grab Mr. Mesa’s face with both hands and began to squeeze tightly,” according to an El Portal police report. “Maher got very close to his face and began to scream many curse words and calling him weak.”
Maher choked Mesa, slammed his head against a couch and threatened to “put a bullet” in the man’s head, according to a police report. When Maher calmed down, Mesa and his girlfriend drove immediately to the police station in El Portal, a small village of about 2,500 people just south of Miami Shores.
State prosecutors authorized Maher’s arrest on a charge of misdemeanor battery and possessing a weapon in violation of a judicial order. But Maher vanished. The manhunt was on — although no advisories were released to inform the public that an armed judge was on the loose.
In the following days, Rodriguez told cops that Maher showed up at their son’s Miami elementary school to try and pick him up. However, she’d kept the boy home from school. That likely would have resulted in another charge of violating a stay-away order.
Investigators also returned to Maher’s house and found his mother, who lied about being in contact with him, according to a report. Nancy Maher, however, insisted she had no idea where her son was. (She hung up on a reporter seeking comment.)
Mesa, shaken and terrified, also called police to report he had information on a “hit list” created by Maher. The list included Rodriguez, federal judges and Mesa’s parents.
For two days, federal authorities shut down the Downtown Miami Social Security Administration building where he worked.
The Federal Protective Service, which maintains security for the building, said in a statement that upon learning of the threat, it “initiated contact and maintained coordinative efforts” with other federal agencies to “ensure the safety of the employees and visitors at the Social Security Administration offices within the area.”
Police in Miami, where the building is located, said it was never notified of the threat.
Maher finally showed up at the home of Rodriguez’s brother in the 23900 block of Southwest 113th Passage on Aug. 23. Someone in the house texted police saying they needed help. It was about 11 p.m. He had three hostages: Jose Rodriguez, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter, Sarah. The special-response team and hostage negotiators descended on the home and soon began communicating with Maher through cellphone, then a megaphone.
“Your honor, if you are in that residence, please, you or someone else inside the house turn the lights on so that we know everyone is OK. We don’t need to escalate this at all,” a hostage negotiator said.
The lights turned on and the negotiator kept talking.
“I know you are a good father, Tim. Do me a favor as a sign of good faith, please be willing to let Sarah come out the front door. She is a 13-year-old girl and does not need to go through all of this. You’re a father. Please let the girl out the front door.”
He did not let her go. But around 9 a.m., a single gunshot rang out. Officers rushed inside. The hostages were unharmed.
After weeks of tumult, Maher was dead.