Inside El Portal’s lone jail cell: A powder keg of confiscated rifles and ammunition

For the past four months, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a cache of high-powered weaponry have sat in dozens of boxes in the lone holding cell of the tiny village of El Portal’s police department.

The haul was gathered during a chaotic 10 days in August when an administrative law judge who heard disability claims at the Social Security office in downtown Miami terrorized family members, friends and his girlfriend with weapons in a frenzied binge that ended when he killed himself on Aug. 23.

Now, a picture of the more than 50 boxes that contain 21 rifles, two handguns, a shotgun, holsters and scopes and thousands of rounds of ammunition is being passed around to villagers, many of whom are worried that the police department is sitting on a powder keg.

“Right now the El Portal PD has nowhere to keep any suspicious person incarcerated,” reads an anonymous email circulated to village residents on Tuesday.

The email included a photo of El Portal’s holding cell filled with boxes of ammo and cautioned the stash also represents a “physical hazard” to the nearby Tot-Lot children’s playground. The anonymous author blamed the interim village attorney Norman Powell for being slow to have the dangerous items removed from the building.

The problem, according to Powell: The weapons and ammo are currently assets of the state and cannot be moved while legal custody is worked out. The items are in the cell because, according to Powell, there’s no safer place to store the weapons and ammo while the estate of the deceased judge, Timothy Maher, and the state of Florida hash out the details in the judge’s will.

“His wishes, as I understand it, is that those assets be sold and added to the estate,” Powell said. “That’s what’s being worked out by the state.”

Powell said the village will seek reimbursement for the storage. Since the ammo has been in the holding cell, arrestees have been taken directly to the county’s main jail.

The village got stuck with the weaponry and ammo during Maher’s 10-day rampage that began with the federal judge, 51, threatening his girlfriend by pointing a rifle with a scope at her as she drove away from his El Portal home with their child. It ended when Maher took his own life in a Southwest Miami-Dade home where he had been holding his girlfriend’s brother and two others hostage, while negotiating with police. None of the hostages were harmed.

Twice during his trek of terror, Maher had contact with El Portal police. The first time was when then-Police Chief Ronnie Hufnagel convinced him to come outside his home after he was accused of threatening his girlfriend and their child with the rifle.

Two days later, Maher showed up at the police station at 500 NE 87th St. and turned in his weaponry: 21 rifles, two handguns, a shotgun, holsters, scopes and thousands of rounds of ammunition. It’s that cache that still remains in the jail cell, packed in more than 50 boxes that take up most of the space.

Both times Maher was confronted by El Portal police, a decision was made not to commit him against his will for up to three days under Florida’s Baker Act.

Now, even from his grave, Maher’s actions continue to haunt residents in the small central Miami-Dade village that isn’t accustomed to the limelight.

“We don’t have a defendant anymore. The defendant is dead,” said Powell. “And we can’t do anything [with the inventory], it’s an asset of the state.”