January 24, 2022
‘We need help in Miami’: Former police chief Acevedo begged for federal investigation
 
 
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When then-Miami police chief Art Acevedo accused city commissioners of corruption in the midst of a battle to save his job last year, he went all the way to Washington, D.C., for help, asking for a federal “intervention” in his own city.

Two weeks before he was fired, Acevedo emailed Department of Justice officials an eight-page memo accusing commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes of improperly interfering in police internal investigations and other misdeeds — a previously unreported communication that confirms the chief followed through on a warning that he would contact federal authorities. 

“I and our department are in dire need of assistance,” Acevedo wrote to DOJ on Sept. 28. “We need help in Miami. I … have been under attack for resisting corruption and calling out unlawful and unjustified use of force, and for supporting my community during the George Floyd protests; and for being a reformer, and more.” 

“We need federal intervention,” he added.

A top official from the department’s Civil Rights Division arranged to call Acevedo to discuss his claims, email records obtained by the Miami Herald show. Acevedo also said he had spoken with Vanita Gupta, the department’s number three official. In addition, the chief sent the document to the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, according to the records.

Washington listened — but it appears that’s all that happened.

The FBI is unlikely to pursue Acevedo’s allegations, two law enforcement sources familiar with an initial inquiry told the Herald. That’s because, by memorializing his concerns in a memo that quickly leaked to the media, Acevedo blew the chance of a federal undercover operation, the sources said. The FBI’s public-corruption squad in Miami, which reviewed the matter, also found the material thin and questioned whether Acevedo was motivated by the desire to save his job, they said.

“This isn’t high school,” said one of the investigators. “The FBI isn’t going to do anything.”

Acevedo — one of the nation’s highest-profile police chiefs thanks to frequent national media appearances and his public support for the Black Lives Matter movement — had originally sent the memo, dated Sept. 24, to his two biggest original champions: Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega.

Within 48 hours, the memo circulated around City Hall and was leaked to the media on the weekend before a Sept. 27 hearing where commissioners were scheduled to discuss the chief’s job. The memo states that Acevedo planned to “request assistance” from the FBI and DOJ.

Now, in the absence of a serious federal investigation, and with state prosecutors mum about whether they’ve taken up the case, the city has beefed up an inquiry into its own elected officials, hiring investigators with potential subpoena power. One of those investigators is a former Doral police chief who lost his job during a 2012 corruption scandal.

Former Miami police chief Ken Harms said he was shocked Acevedo didn’t quietly pass along his complaints to the FBI long before his fight with city commissioners erupted into public view.

“If Acevedo had any integrity, he would have reported this all to the FBI months ago instead of using a bludgeon as leverage to save his career,” Harms said. “The FBI has to make an inquiry of his allegations, but I’d be very surprised if anything comes of it.”

Harms was himself controversially dismissed as chief in the 1980s during a previous era of Miami political dysfunction, back when he and Carollo were bitterly feuding. During the Acevedo controversy, Harms backed Carollo’s attacks on Acevedo and endorsed the commissioner in his reelection campaign.

On Monday, Carollo blasted Acevedo for “[lying] like he did for the purpose of saving a job.”

“Anybody that knows a little bit about law enforcement knows that this is all a smokescreen for Acevedo, that there was nothing there,” Carollo, a former Miami-Dade cop, told the Herald.

Díaz de la Portilla echoed Carollo in a statement Tuesday.

“This guy has built a career bullying and trying to fool people,” Díaz de la Portilla said of Acevedo. “It finally caught up to him. We are lucky to be free of him.” 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the Miami offices of the FBI and the U.S Attorney. Acevedo did not respond to requests for comment.

Acevedo’s successor, Interim Police Chief Manny Morales declined to comment. Suarez did not respond to a request for comment. The mayor, who called Acevedo the “Michael Jordan of police chiefs” when he was hired, kept his distance from Acevedo’s high-profile ouster, drawing criticism from both supporters and detractors.

Stanley Jean-Poix, head of a group that represents Black police officers in Miami, said that “we definitely lost an ally” when Acevedo was fired after just six months on the job. Still, he wondered if the chief had handled his accusations in the best possible way.

“I don’t know his mindset on why he went public,” said Jean-Poix, a Miami police sergeant. “If the feds say this needs to be done quietly, it should have been done quietly.”

The FBI’s reluctance to pursue Acevedo’s allegations means any investigation would fall to State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle.

Fernández Rundle’s office would not confirm or deny it was investigating the matter. But when asked for records, the SAO withheld them, citing an exemption under Florida law for “active criminal” investigations and intelligence. 

In his memo, Acevedo accused the three commissioners of interfering with an internal police investigation into an alleged “security breach” that might have come from one of the sergeants-at-arms, the team of officers who act as the mayor and elected officials’ security details. The breach in question: Disclosing the mayor’s tripto a friend’s home in the Keys on Memorial Day weekend, where he was accompanied by police officers. Sergeants-at-arms are not supposed to disclose the mayor’s location. 

Acevedo wrote about being questioned by commissioners Díaz de la Portilla, Carollo and Reyes over the internal affairs case during a June 24 public meeting, where sergeant-at-arms Luis Camacho was named as the cop involved in the investigation. Camacho, a well-liked officer among commissioners, was relieved of duty during the inquiry. His removal drew criticism from commissioners. As of Wednesday, Camacho has not been reinstated.  

Acevedo also accused the three commissioners of interfering with police personnel decisions by adjusting the department’s budget in a way that eliminated positions Acevedo had created, including a deputy chief post he’d hired a former Houston colleague, Heather Morris, to fill.

In addition, Acevedo alleged that Carollo and Díaz de la Portilla steered police to target businesses in each other’s districts for supposed illegal activity. All three commissioners have denied wrongdoing and said Acevedo lied in his memo.

During the Sept. 27 hearing where commissioners blasted Acevedo, the commission ordered City Attorney Victoria Méndez to hire investigators to look into Acevedo’s allegations, with one of the commissioners, newly appointed chair Christine King, authorized to issue subpoenas, if necessary. 

“The investigation is ongoing,” wrote Deputy City Attorney Barnaby Min, in an email Tuesday.

Min told the Herald that the city hired two local attorneys to lead the internal probe: former prosecutor and DEA agent Jarrett Wolf and Ricardo Gomez — a former Doral police chief familiar with scandal.

While he was Doral’s chief in 2012, Gomez was accused of rigging bids for office furniture and misusing public funds, allegations detailed in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report. Gomez was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by Fernández Rundle’s office, though he was abruptly dismissed during the controversy.

Min also said a third investigator will be brought on soon. No subpoenas have so far been issued.

The Department of Justice has intervened in Miami’s police affairs before, but in the past cops have been the subject of its scrutiny.

Following a string of deadly police shootings of Black suspects in 2010 and 2011, a DOJ review found the department had violated the U.S. Constitution by engaging in “excessive use of deadly force.” To avoid costly litigation, the city agreed to federal oversight that ended in March 2021 after a series of department reforms were implemented and maintained for years.