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After fighting against early prisoner releases and short sentences, Miami police chief suspended

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Miami police Chief Art Acevedo was suspended by the city manager on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)


Charles Rabin and Joey Flechas

Miami Herald

MIAMI — City Manager Art Noriega suspended embattled Miami police Chief Art Acevedo on Monday with the intention of firing him — ending weeks of speculation and tumult at Miami City Hall and after a pair of circus-like public hearings last week in which commissioners repeatedly lashed out at the chief over a series of controversial moves and blunders.

The suspension came two weeks after Acevedo inflamed the city’s majority Cuban American commission by accusing them of interfering with police investigations and comparing their actions to Communist Cuba. Though spokeswoman Stephanie Severino, Noriega’s communication director, the manager said the situation between Acevedo and elected leaders had become “untenable.”

“Today I suspended Police Chief Art Acevedo with the intent to terminate his employment,” Noriega said in a statement. “Relationships between employers and employees come down to fit and leadership style and unfortunately, Chief Acevedo is not the right fit for this organization.”

Moments before Noriega released his statement, Acevedo sent one to the city’s 1,300 sworn officers saying “It’s been a privilege serving and fighting for you.”

Under city rules Acevedo can accept the termination or choose to have a hearing before the city’s five commissioners, three of whom have quarreled with him the past several weeks.

In a mere six months at the helm, Acevedo so angered city leaders with his unwillingness to bow to commissioners that Acevedo’s boss, City Manager Art Noriega, was left little choice but to force the chief out.

During his brief tenure Acevedo took control of internal affairs, disparaged the legal community for early prisoner releases and short sentences and fired the highest ranking police couple in the department for not properly reporting a minor accident in which two tires were blown out. He also demoted four majors, including the second-highest ranking Black female officer in the department.

Acevedo “accidentally” posed for a picture with one of the local leaders of the white national movement Proud Boys and he referred to the people running the Miami Police Department as the “Cuban Mafia.” The chief later apologized for the statement, admitting he was unaware it was a term used by Fidel Castro to paint Miami Cuban exiles who opposed his dictatorship as criminals.

Remarkably, Acevedo’s relationship with the commissioners continued to worsen. Two weeks ago he penned a memo to Noriega and Mayor Francis Suarez accusing Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes of interfering with police investigations. The chief also said he had informed federal investigators and compared the trio’s actions to Communist Cuba.

Two of the three commissioners fled Cuba as children and the families of all three have suffered since Fidel Castro’s takeover 60 years ago. Infuriated, commissioners called for a pair of public hearings last week in which they excoriated the chief without rebuttal.

For more than 20 hours over two days they spoke of moves Acevedo made that they didn’t agree with and miscues by the chief. They also brought up problems the chief encountered during stays with the California Highway Patrol and as police chief in Austin and Houston.

Carollo, who led the charge, questioned Acevedo about costumes and dances he was videotaped doing as chief in Austin that turned out to be fundraisers for good causes. He also brought up a lawsuit filed by a female subordinate of Acevedo’s at the California Highway Patrol, in which he was accused of showing nude photos of the woman to co-workers. It’s unclear what became of the lawsuit.

Then, between the meetings that bookended last week, Acevedo, told senior staff during a 75-minute fiery, grievance-filled speech, that he had enough probable cause to arrest people obstructing police probes. He didn’t name any commissioners.

According to several sources, the chief called Miami a corrupt city that could be cured if he were permitted to bring in the right people. He also complained that several senior level positions were being eliminated by commissioners to stop his plan. The usually boisterous staff was stone silent after the chief’s outburst.

When word leaked of the meeting, Noriega ordered Acevedo to his office and demanded that he come up with a plan to reform the department and repair damaged relationships with commissioners.

He also told the chief he was concerned about the department’s low morale, its perception in the community and that he believed Acevedo lacked “certain sensitivity training and cultural awareness with regard to this community and its residents.”

After their meeting, the chief refused to speak with a reporter and Noriega said only that he gave the chief some directives. But a memo Noriega wrote to Acevedo prior to the meeting indicated his concerns about the chief ran deep — and that Acevedo had better follow his boss’s orders.

“While in the past you have not always been receptive to my advice, I believe now is the time to follow my counsel,” Noriega wrote. “Adhering to same is in the best interest of the city, the administration, and the organization as a whole.”

Acevedo, with the help of some top staffers, completed his report Sunday and forwarded it to Noriega.

Acevedo, 57 and an outspoken nationally prominent figure, came to Miami as a surprise choice from Houston only six months ago. Even his hiring upset several commissioners. Suarez and Noriega halted a lengthy search for a new chief that included several internal candidates, by announcing Acevedo’s hiring. At the time, Suarez called him the “Michael Jordan” of police chiefs.

Suarez, facing an election for a new term in early November, has avoided last week’s hearings and has yet to address concerns about Acevedo. He did say he’s paying attention to the goings-on at City Hall.

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©2021 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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