Miami City Manager Art Noriega moved to fire embattled Police Chief Art Acevedo Monday night, ending weeks of speculation following two circus-like public hearings where city commissioners slammed the chief for everything from a tone-deaf statement about “Cuban Mafia” running the department to a tight jumpsuit he wore years ago during a fundraiser in another city.
Technically, the manager suspended Acevedo pending termination — forcing an almost-sure-to-lose hearing before a five-member commission with three vocal critics who appear likely to support his ouster after his tumultuous six months in charge.
The suspension came three weeks after Acevedo inflamed a trio of the Cuban-American commissioners by accusing them of interfering with police investigations and comparing their actions to Communist Cuba. His short tenure has been filled with controversial decisions and gaffes like posing for a picture with one of the South Florida leaders of the white nationalist group the Proud Boys.
Noriega released a statement early Monday evening saying the situation between Acevedo, 57, and the city had become “untenable.”
“In particular, the relationship between the chief and the police department he leads — as well as with the community — has deteriorated beyond repair,” wrote Noriega. “Relationships between employers and employees come down to fit and leadership style and unfortunately, Chief Acevedo is not the right fit for this organization.”
Just a few moments before Noriega released his statement, Acevedo sent a message to senior staff and the city’s 1,300 sworn officers saying it had been a “privilege serving with you and fighting for you” — but without saying exactly whether he would tender his resignation before a commission vote on his future.
“I promise to continue the good fight to rid MPD [Miami Police Department] of political interference from City Hall that unfortunately continues to negatively impact this organization,” Acevedo told his staff.
Though several city commissioners spent weeks bashing Acevedo over firings, hirings and demotions within the department, only Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla called for the chief’s firing before Monday.
“The natural outcome of an arrogant and dishonest police chief was that he would be dismissed,” said the commissioner. “His bad actions speak for themselves. Our city, our police officers and our residents will be better off as a result.”
If Acevedo leaves soon, it will be the shortest term of a police chief in Miami in recent memory — a shocking end for a highly touted national figure who came from a much larger department in Houston. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez had described him as the “Michael Jordan” or “Tom Brady” of police chiefs when he was introduced.
In just six months, Acevedo angered city leaders with a string of decisions and comments. Noriega, Acevedo’s boss and who was ultimately responsible for his hire, was left with little choice but to force the chief out.
Since early April Acevedo has taken control of internal affairs, publicly 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 an accident in which two tires were blown out of a city-issued vehicle. He also demoted four majors, including the second-highest ranking Black female officer in the department.
Acevedo also “accidentally” posed for a picture with one of the local leaders of the white national movement Proud Boys.
But the end of his term began to crystallize when he referred to the people running the Miami Police Department as the “Cuban Mafia,” a term used by Fidel Castro as he tried to paint Miami Cuban exiles as criminals for opposing his dictatorship. Born in Havana and raised in Los Angeles, Acevedo claimed ignorance and apologized.
His relationship with the city’s five commissioners — who direct Noriega — only worsened. Three weeks ago he penned a memo to Noriega and Mayor Francis Suarez accusing Commissioners Joe Carollo, 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.
Like Acevedo, two of the city’s three Cuban-American commissioners fled Cuba as children and the families of all three have suffered since Castro’s takeover 60 years ago. Infuriated, commissioners called for a pair of public hearings in which they excoriated the chief without rebuttal.
For more than 20 hours over two days they lit into decisions and miscues made by Acevedo that they didn’t agree with. They also brought up problems the chief encountered during stays with the California Highway Patrol and as police chief in Austin and Houston in Texas.
Carollo, who led the charge, created a spectacle by questioning the chief’s choice of clothing, particularly when he was videotaped at a fundraiser in Austin wearing a tight one-piece jumpsuit while imitating Elvis Presley. Carollo ordered the video stopped when the outline of the chief’s crotch was clearly visible and asked the clearly uncomfortable city manager if that’s what he expected of his police chief.
And even in the few days that separated the two commission hearings on the chief, Acevedo created more ill will. During a 75-minute fiery and private grievance-filled speech to staff, the chief said he had enough probable cause to arrest people obstructing police probes, without naming commissioners.
But they took notice, as did Noriega, who during the second and final hearing on a Friday told commissioners they needn’t worry about being arrested.
According to several sources, the chief called Miami a corrupt city during that meeting and said he could cure it 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.
Enraged, Noriega fired off a memo ordering Acevedo for a review of his department and saying the chief lacked “certain sensitivity training and cultural awareness with regard to this community and its residents.”
In his statement Monday, Noriega named Assistant Police Chief Manny Morales as the interim chief. Morales was one of several in-house finalists for the position before the hiring of Acevedo ended the search back in March.
On Monday, despite ripping Acevedo for hours during hearings two weeks ago, Carollo said he was surprised Noriega made a decision so quickly. The commissioner also wouldn’t commit to voting to end Acevedo’s stay in Miami.
“I’m going to keep an open mind as best as I can to listen to whatever defense he wants to provide on the manager’s reasoning for his firing,” said Carollo. “ And then I will speak and make my determination at that time.”
Commissioners Ken Russell and Jeffrey Watson could not be immediately reached for comment Monday night.
Suarez, who championed his hire in March, has repeatedly declined to say where he stands on the chief. The mayor did not immediately respond to the Herald on Monday.
Reyes said he was expecting Noriega to take some sort of action, but like Carollo, did not say how he’d vote on Acevedo’s fate.
“I want to hear what he has to say,” Reyes said. “This is going to be just like a trial, and we have to respect the principle of a trial.”
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