Miami fires police chief after tumultuous six-month tenure

·4 min read

Miami city commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to fire Police Chief Art Acevedo just six months after he assumed the post.

The five-member commission conducted a 4½-hour quasi-judicial hearing, acting as "judges" and hearing from four witnesses, before they decided to terminate Acevedo just days after he was suspended by Miami City Manager Art Noriega.

The expected decision came after several contentious weeks of controversy and acrimonious exchanges between Acevedo and commissioners Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes and Alex Díaz de la Portilla.

Acevedo's attorney, John Byrne, blasted the commission in his opening remarks, saying that the decision was "preordained" and that members had violated the city charter by not giving Acevedo the afforded time to prepare his case.

Byrne said that the charter allows five days and that he and Acevedo had had much less to prepare, resulting in Byrne's not calling any witnesses or presenting any evidence during the hearing.

"We don't forfeit our right in a fair setting. This is not a fair setting," Byrne said.

Díaz de la Portilla asked Byrne several times whether Acevedo was "paying his bills."

Byrne said multiple times that Acevedo was suspended and terminated because he wrote a fiery memo on Sept. 24 accusing three commissioners of interfering in his internal affairs and of retaliating against him by eliminating the budget for crucial high-level police positions, among other actions. He compared some of the commissioners' moves to those of communist Cuba.

"Every single allegation made against him [that was] presented predated sending that memo, and that tells us that Chief Acevedo wasn't suspended for those claimed reasons," Byrne said. "He was suspended because he had courage to do what many don't, to speak truth to power."

Outside counsel whom Noriega hired to defend his decision to suspend Acevedo laid out the eight reasons listed in the memorandum sent to Acevedo, relieving him of his duties.

Among them was the claim that rank-and-file officers and the executive staff had lost confidence in Acevedo, leading him to lose his ability to lead the department, said Noriega's attorney, Stephanie Marchman.

He also made unauthorized comments about Covid-19 vaccination requirements, failed to report his personal and vacation time and offended the community by telling 300 officers that the city was run by the "Cuban Mafia," Marchman said.

Marchman called three witnesses: the city's human resources director, Interim Police Chief Manuel Morales and Assistant Police Chief Armando Aguilar. Each spoke about Acevedo's alleged improprieties.

Morales said that "a litany of things" led to the loss of confidence in Acevedo's ability to lead but that "it boils down to the systematic demoralization of the police department that has been a result of [Acevedo's] leadership style."

He added that Acevedo did not intervene when his deputy, Heather Morris, verbally abused several members of the executive staff by using vulgar language, screaming and waving her hand in their faces.

"It was a little bit bizarre for me," he said. "I would have expected him to bring down the tone and use his authority to stop the situation and bring calm to the room, as things could have escalated quickly."

Aguilar, who also referred to the incident, said a survey conducted by the Miami Fraternal Order of Police found that 79 percent of those questioned believed Acevedo should resign or be removed.

Byrne said that Morales and Aguilar applied for the job before Acevedo was hired and that they were looking to apply for the position if he was terminated. He also questioned the veracity of the survey, claiming that some officers could have voted multiple times.

Noriega, the final witness, said it had "become clear to me that the chief was no longer capable of managing the department, and I lost faith in his ability to do so."

Noriega commented on a video the commissioners viewed multiple times of Acevedo using profanities when he confronted a person at a protest. Another video showed Acevedo telling a journalist that he would require the police department to be vaccinated if he had his way.

Noriega said Acevedo's downfall stemmed from a lack of understanding of the community.

"When you're not from here, without the pre-existing relationships and network, it takes time to establish that, and he didn't allow for that," he said. "He engineered his demise."

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