Miami commissioners vote to end police chief’s stormy tenure

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Art Acevedo

Miami police Chief Art Acevedo arrives at Miami City Hall for a hearing to determine his job, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Miami. Acevedo was suspended after a tumultuous six-month tenure. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

MIAMI (AP) — Miami city commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to fire Police Chief Art Acevedo after a short and stormy tenure in which he clashed with city officials and members of his own police force.

The five commissioners took the step following a trial-like hearing in which Acevedo was criticized for offending fellow Cuban-Americans and losing the trust of his officers, while his attorney argued that the city’s politicians wanted him gone because he accused them of corruption. An interim chief was immediately sworn in after Acevedo’s ouster.

Acevedo, 57, did not testify at the meeting. He took office in April after leaving his post as Houston police chief. At the time, Miami’s mayor hailed the veteran police official as the Michael Jordan and Tom Brady of police chiefs. Native to Havana, Acevedo also shared a background with hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Miami.

Acevedo began clashing with others in his departmentalmost immediately after his April swearing-in, by taking over internal affairs and making significant changes to his command staff. He demoted four majors and fired two high-level police officers — a married couple — because they weren’t truthful about a crash involving a city-issued SUV.

Acevedo’s attorney John Byrne said at Thursday’s meeting that there was not enough time to build a case to properly defend Acevedo. He noted that the meeting was scheduled four days after Acevedo was suspended by City Manager Art Noriega.

Commissioners said they were obligated to vote on the matter within five days of receiving the notice per city rules. Mayor Francis Suarez did not attend the meeting but has stood by the city manager’s moves to remove Acevedeo.

“Based on what we have seen here today, it is clear the commissioners have not a valid basis for terminating Chief Acevedo,” Byrne said. He added that the reasons stated by the city manager were “pretextual” and that the real justification was an eight-page memo in which he accused city commissioners of meddling in the police department and internal investigations.

“If chief Acevedo could say anything that would make any difference, he would. It’s very clear what’s going on,” Byrne said.

In the memo sent to the mayor and city manager, Acevedo also accused commissioners of hampering his attempts at reforming the department by eliminating positions and stated he was talking to U.S. Justice Department officials to review the city’s police internal affairs procedures and non-fatal use of force incidents.

Two of the commissioners, also of Cuban descent, were seemingly upset that Acevedo would not speak at the hearing.

“He had the courage to write a false memo, full of lies,” said commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla upon learning that Byrne rested his case without calling witnesses. “He should have the courage to stand up here and address this commission, the courage or the guts to do it. He clearly does not.”

The Cuban American commissioners have publicly attacked Acevedo in two previous long meetings. On Thursday, the city manager’s attorney presented a video of him cursing at a demonstrator who was questioning his support for Black Lives Matter.

Before arriving in Miami, Acevedo became well known after calling for gun control and also marching with protesters in the aftermath of the police custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Noriega’s attorney, Stephanie Marchman, argued the termination of Acevedo was fair, naming the confrontation with the protester for which he was reprimanded as one of several reasons justifying his termination. She questioned witnesses who said Acevedo had lost the trust of his police officers and offended the community by saying the city was run by a “Cuban mafia,” a term former Cuban leader Fidel Castro used to refer to exiles in Miami.

“Any one of those reasons is sufficient to remove him from his position,” she said.

Assistant chief Manny Morales was sworn in as interim chief immediately following the hearing. He was one of the witnesses called by Marchman who testified there was growing dissatisfaction among the rank-and-file under Acevedo’s leadership.

Morales said the chief interviewed high-ranking officers, asking them to select people they would demote and state the reasons why. Acevedo would then tell officers what their coworkers were saying, without specifying who had said it, Morales said.

“That was perhaps what drove the biggest wedge. I think it was a tactic to divide and conquer,” he said. “The divulging of that information— that your peers were stabbing you in the back.”

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