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Miami suspends, may fire police chief who called out corruption, interference from politicians

Miami City police Chief Art Acevedo at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove, Florida, on March 15, 2021. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
October 13, 2021

The city of Miami suspended and may fire its newest police chief Art Acevedo after just six months with him on the job. The suspension comes after Acevedo accused city officials of corruption and compared them to the communist Cuban government.

On Monday, Miami City Manager Art Noriega suspended Acevedo and recommended the city commission fire him outright, the Washington Post reported. Noriega said, “Today, I suspended Police Chief Art Acevedo with the intent to terminate his employment, consistent with the City Charter.”

The move to fire Acevedo has a good chance to succeed as three of the five city commission members are vocal critics of the police chief, according to the Washington Post. The commission will hold a hearing on the matter this week.

Acevedo was initially welcomed by city leaders, including Mayor Francis Suarez who said hiring Acevedo was “like getting the Tom Brady or the Michael Jordan of police chiefs.” After taking office, however, the rift began to show.

The Washington Post reported Acevedo had upset local politics with a series of reforms within the city’s police department. After starting the job, he asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the city’s internal affairs process and incidents of excessive use of force by officers. USA Today reported Acevedo also fired two high-ranking officers – a married couple – he determined weren’t truthful about a crash involving a city-issued SUV. He demoted several supervisors, including the second-highest-ranked black female officer.

In one memo, Acevedo wrote that city commissioner Joe Carollo and the other commissioners were interfering with internal affairs investigations, and improperly ordering police resources to be deployed against certain establishments “based on nothing more than the whims of commissioners,” USA Today reported. At a subsequent meeting, Carollo called on Acevedo to arrest him on the spot if the police chief had proof that Carollo and other commissioners were interfering with internal affairs investigations.

Carollo also accused Acevedo of hypocrisy for relieving from duty an officer for making the “OK” hand sign — which in recent years has been alleged to mean “white power.” Carollo scrutinized a photo in which Acevedo used the same hand gesture.

The New York Times also reported Acevedo upset city leaders by attending a pro-Cuban democracy protest and posing for a picture with a prominent member of the Proud Boys, whom the chief said he did not know. Acevedo also compared negative responses to his actions by city commissioners to “the repressive regime and police state” of Communist Cuba. Acevedo was born in Havana, Cuba and Miami has a prominent community of Cuban exiles who are often opposed to the island nation’s communist government.

Acevedo also reportedly upset rank and file members of the police force when he told the media that officers should get vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk being fired.

“The relationship between the chief and the organization has become untenable and needed to be resolved promptly,” Noriega said Monday. “Relationships between employers and employees come down to fit and leadership style and unfortunately, Chief Acevedo is not the right fit for this organization.”

Acevedo began his police career as a California Highway Patrol officer. He went on to become the Austin Police Chief and then the Houston Police Chief. Acevedo, who is a registered Republican, had gained favor with the political left for denouncing former Republican President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the National Rifle Association and for calling for gun control. Acevedo caught further attention during widespread demonstrations in the summer of 2020 when he marched alongside protesters after the death of George Floyd.

Mayor Suarez, who once said Acevedo is “America’s best chief,” also had a different view of him after the last six months.

“While it is clear that Chief Acevedo has the qualifications and the experience to be an effective chief of police, it is also obvious that his personality and leadership style are incompatible with the structure of our city’s government,” Suarez told reporters, as he announced his support for Noriega’s decision.

Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster and lecturer on political science at the University of Miami, told the Washington Post that the city’s rift with Acevedo is “emblematic of the dysfunctional environment, banana republic-style approach to the way the city conducts its business.”

Amandi said Miami “puts the interest of its residents last and the interest of its elected officials first” and Acevedo became an “existential threat” to their political control. “That is why he had to go.”

Acevedo has not spoken publicly about his potential firing but in an internal email, shared by WPLG News, he said, “I promise to continue to fight the good fight to rid M.P.D. of the political interference from City Hall that unfortunately continues to negatively impact this organization.”