September 24, 2021
Miami commission calls meeting to grill police chief after string of controversies
By Charles Rabin

Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, a surprising and prized hire by the mayor, is already on the hot seat only five months into the job. 

Miami commissioners — angered over a series of controversial decisions and gaffes by the new chief — have called for a special meeting in two weeks to grill Acevedo and potentially decide his future. Last week, in the most recent controversy, the chief drew a rebuke from commissioners for telling a group of officers that department was run by the “Cuban Mafia.” 

Acevedo — a Cuban American who gained national prominence while serving as police chief in Houston during last summer’s Black Lives Matter marches — apologized for a comment he said he intended as a joke. He said he was unaware the term had been coined by Fidel Castro to paint Miami exiles as criminals for opposing his dictatorship. The majority of city commissioners are either exiles or have families who have suffered during the six decades of oppression under the Communist regime.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a new transplant come here and do whatever he wants,” Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo declared from the dais at a meeting Monday night. “Each one of us are duly elected. And each one of us has deep roots in this community.”

Acevedo, who was sworn in on April 5, came highly touted by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who said at the time that “We got the Michael Jordan of police chiefs.”

His brief tenure has been steeped in controversy.

Acevedo fired the highest-ranking police couple in the department for not properly reporting a patrol vehicle accident. He relieved a popular sergeant-at-arms from duty and demoted four majors, including one of the city’s highest-ranking Black female officers, without explanation.

He posed for a selfie — unaware, he said — that it was with a leading member of South Florida’s white nationalist group the Proud Boys. He’s rankled members of the judiciary by repeatedly blasting them for early inmate releases from prison and jail. Last week, it was disclosed that he had made the “Cuban Mafia” statement to about 100 officers during a morning roll call. 

Carollo was set to discuss Acevedo’s future Monday. But with a packed chamber awaiting a budget hearing, commissioners delayed the hearing until Sept. 27. Commissioners can’t fire the police chief. But a vote of no confidence can go a long way towards influencing Acevedo’s boss, City Manager Art Noriega.

Carollo noted as much Monday, warning Noriega, “We are your bosses.”

The special meeting was also welcomed by Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes, who has been at odds with the chief for months, especially over statements made by the chief to department rank-and-file. 

“I think he’s done enough” to warrant the meeting, Reyes said. “He’s put his foot in his mouth enough times and made enough bad decisions that he needs to be called to the table.” 

Acevedo, who was in the chamber during Carollo’s tirade, did not speak after Carollo’s remarks. He also has not responded to repeated phone calls, texts, direct messages and requests for interviews through his office over the past week and on Tuesday. 

The last time a meeting similar to the one called for Sept. 27 took place, Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito lost his job over being insubordinate. That meeting came after a series of seven police shooting deaths of mostly unarmed Black men over seven months. 

Acevedo’s most recent flap involves his personal unmarked SUV, a black Chevy Tahoe. Two weeks ago, someone noticed scuff marks and a slight separation of the vehicle’s fender on the front, right passenger side and last week outside City Hall, Reyes took photos. 

The FOP President also noted the “hypocrisy” of the chief not filing a report after his firing of Deputy Chief Ron Papier and his wife, Cmdr. Nerly Papier, this summer. Acevedo determined the two had not followed the proper chain of command or filed proper reports after Nerly Papier blew out two tires in her patrol vehicle after hitting a curb. 

“It’s absolutely hypocritical,” Reyes said. “If we’re going to argue a popped tire is a crash, well then, a scuffed panel and a bumper knocked out of place is a crash, too.” 

Reyes said he noticed the damage to the vehicle on Sept. 3 and took the photo a week later. At the time, no damage report was filed. The picture shows scuff marks and a fender slightly separated from the SUV’s panel. 

On Sept. 10, a memo emerged from a pair of senior police officers who determined the damage was no more than “dust” marks. 

According to the memo penned by Traffic Homicide Sgt. Eddie Avila, Assistant Chief Tommy Carroll contacted him and said an officer had been instructed to go to police headquarters and survey the chief’s vehicle for possible damage. The officer photographed “very minor white brush [residue].”

Then, the memo says Capt. Javier Ortiz — a former police union president with a checkered history who has emerged as an Acevedo supporter — was notified and went to see the SUV himself. There, he took out a rag and some water and turned on his Body Worn Camera to record himself wiping down the vehicle. 

“All residue marks came off the vehicle and no visible damage remained,” wrote Avila, who also responded to the scene at the chief’s vehicle. “It is my professional opinion that there are no visible damages to the vehicle and no further documentation or reports are needed for this incident.” 

Ortiz followed up with a memo that said, “This investigation is now closed.” 

Avila declined an interview request and Ortiz did not respond to a phone call or text.