COCONUT GROVE, FLA. (WSVN) - - A daylong special meeting of the City of Miami Commission ended with a vote to open an investigation into the hiring of Police Chief Art Acevedo, a day after he made controversial comments about three commissioners and claimed he faced “interference” from city officials while carrying out his duties.
Monday’s meeting was called by commissioners so they could discuss the chief’s comments in an eight-page memo he wrote to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega.
At the center of the controversy was Acevedo’s comparison of the running of the police department to the Cuban Mafia.
While Acevedo is of Cuban descent, he said he did not realize that this comparison would be offensive and that it was not his intention.
He has since apologized but said he is not happy with some of Miami’s commissioners.
The chief tweeted in part, “I want to thank City of Miami commissioners for kindly reminding me this morning that historically, the Castro regime referred to the exile community in Miami as ‘The Cuban Mafia.'”
Several residents who spoke during the meeting were critical of Acevedo.
“Mr. Acevedo’s judgment and decision making have been suspect, rash and call into question his ability to effectively run the police department,” said a man.
“This is disgusting. To have hired this chief is disgusting,” said a woman.
However, other residents spoke in support of the police chief.
“Chief Acevedo was brought here for a reason. It took courage for the city manager to understand that one day, today might happen, that his pick was going to be challenged by all of you,” he said.
During the special meeting, Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla pointed at what he described as mistakes made by Acevedo since he became Miami Police chief.
“After all the gaffes and missteps that he’s done here in five months. I’ve never seen anybody make so many mistakes in such a short period of time,” he said.
Commissioner Manolo Reyes, meanwhile, called for an investigation into the department’s hiring process of the chiefs.
“I want a full investigation,” he said.
In the memo, Acevedo accused some city officials of misconduct, including “interference with MPD internal affairs,” “interference with reform efforts and MPD staffing,” and “interference with and improper use of MPD resources.” To cite an example, the police chief wrote that commissioners became involved with the firing of a sergeant.
Noriega also weighed in on the police chief’s memo.
“We have certainly ventured into an area that is highly problematic, because if anybody in the administration is in a position where they’re in conflict with our elected officials, to the level that this has gotten – I won’t speak to the accusations in the memo,” he said.
Acevedo has contacted the United States Department of Justice to review the city’s internal affairs process and some questionable uses of force used by officers.
7News cameras captured the police chief as he walked on the second floor of Miami City Hall while the commission meeting took place. He never made an appearance inside the chambers.
Some commissioners said Acevedo has a spotty past and want to know the vetting process he went through when he was selected.
“I want to go through serious information that I have been sent about Mr. Acevedo and his tenure in California, in Austin, Texas and Houston, Texas,” said Commissioner Joe Carollo, “to inquire the city manager: did he know any of that, what vetting he did?”
Commissioners played two videos of what appeared to be fundraisers that took place before the chief’s time in the Magic City. In one of the clips, Acevedo appeared to be dressed up as Elvis Presley.
“That he would go out publicly with pants like that,” said Carollo.
Commissioners discussed the videos while calling the chief’s behavior into question.
“I’ve always thought a police chief should be a professional administrator who’s not going to be in this kind of shenanigans,” said Carollo.
The commissioners mentioned in Acevedo’s memo also defended themselves from the police chief’s comments.
“In the memo — I can say this, madam attorney — full of lies, as you know, to try to shift the focus,” said Diaz de la Portilla.
De la Portilla argued that Acevedo wants to distract from what he described as issues the police chief is facing in his department.
“It’s not right that you characterize this as a battle between a police chief and three elected officials, or four or five,” he said. “The problem is – that’s not the way to characterize this. That’s not what’s happening here. The problem, his conflict, is with his own department. He’s trying to reframe that debate, to pretend it’s political in nature.”
Commissioners do not have the power to fire the chief. They can, however, vote that they have no confidence in the current chief, and that could put pressure on the city manager to take some sort of action.
A Miami Fraternal Order of Police survey found 79% of those polled do not have confidence in Acevedo’s ability to lead the department.
“The cops who are not in favor of the chief can’t come here and speak against the chief because they’re afraid,” said Miami Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes. “They fear for their jobs. They fear for their safety to [speak out].”
But a woman who spoke on behalf of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association praised Acevedo’s job performance.
“The MCPBA wholeheartedly agrees with the essence of Chief Acevedo’s vision, which is to instill a culture of accountability in our police department and build relationships with the community,” she said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to form an investigative panel to look at several matters, including the hiring process and the claims Acevedo made in his memo.
“My goal is to clarify all the allegations, all the accusations,” said Reyes, “because that memo has left a cloud over the way that we are behaving ourselves.”
7News was unable to get a comment from Acevedo about the special meeting.
The meeting began on Monday just after 11 a.m. and wrapped up just before 6 p.m. Another special meeting has been scheduled for Friday.
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