Miami decides to fire police chief Art Acevedo and end a tumultuous but short tenure
City Manager Art Noriega moved to fire embattled Police Chief Art Acevedo Monday night, ending weeks of speculation and tumult at City Hall and after a pair of circus-like public hearings in which commissioners lashed out at the chief for everything from a misguided statement he made about the “Cuban Mafia,” to the tight jumpsuit he wore during a fundraiser in another city.
Technically, the manager suspended Acevedo pending termination, giving him the choice to resign or have a hearing before the city’s five commissioners, the majority of whom have publicly questioned his brief six-month time at the helm.
The suspension came three weeks after Acevedo inflamed the city’s majority Cuban American commission 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 fired off a mixed-message to senior staff and the city’s 1,300 sworn officers saying it has been a “privilege serving with you and fighting for you,” without saying he had resigned.
“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 said.
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 to highly-touted national figure who came from a much larger department and who the city’s mayor referred to as the “Michael Jordan” or “Tom Brady” of police chiefs.
In a mere six months at the helm, Acevedo so angered city leaders with his unwillingness to bow to commissioners that Acevedo’s boss, City Manager Art Noriega, was left little choice but to force the chief out.
During his brief tenure Acevedo took control of internal affairs, 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 a minor accident in which two tires were blown out. He also demoted four majors, including the second-highest ranking Black female officer in the department.
Acevedo “accidentally” posed for a picture with one of the local leaders of the white national movement Proud Boys and he referred to the people running the Miami Police Department as the “Cuban Mafia. The chief later apologized for the statement, admitting he was unaware it was a term used by Fidel Castro to paint Miami Cuban exiles who opposed his dictatorship as criminals.
Remarkably, Acevedo’s relationship with the commissioners continued to worsen. Two weeks ago he penned a memo to Noriega and Mayor Francis Suarez accusing Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex 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.
Two of the three commissioners fled Cuba as children and the families of all three have suffered since Fidel Castro’s takeover 60 years ago. Infuriated, commissioners called for a pair of public hearings last week in which they excoriated the chief without rebuttal.
For more than 20 hours over two days they spoke of moves Acevedo made that they didn’t agree with and miscues by the chief. They also brought up problems the chief encountered during stays with the California Highway Patrol and as police chief in Austin and Houston, Texas.
Carollo, who led the charge, questioned Acevedo about costumes and dances he was videotaped doing as chief in Austin that turned out to be fundraisers for good causes. He also brought up a lawsuit filed by a female subordinate of Acevedo’s at the California Highway Patrol, in which he was accused of showing nude photos of the woman to co-workers. It’s unclear what became of the lawsuit.
Then, between the meetings that bookended last week, Acevedo, told senior staff during a 75-minute fiery, grievance-filled speech, that he had enough probable cause to arrest people obstructing police probes. He didn’t name any commissioners.
According to several sources, the chief called Miami a corrupt city that could be cured 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.
When word leaked of the meeting, Noriega ordered Acevedo to his office and demanded that he come up with a plan to reform the department and repair damaged relationships with commissioners.
He also told the chief he was concerned about the department’s low morale, it’s perception in the community and that he believed Acevedo lacked “certain sensitivity training and cultural awareness with regard to this community and its residents.”
After their meeting, the chief refused to speak with a reporter and Noriega said only that he gave the chief some directives. But a memo Noriega wrote to Acevedo prior to the meeting indicated his concerns about the chief ran deep – and that Acevedo had better follow his boss’s orders.
“While in the past you have not always been receptive to my advice, I believe now is the time to follow my counsel,” Noriega wrote. “Adhering to same is in the best interest of the city, the administration, and the organization as a whole.”
Acevedo, with the help of some top staffers, completed his report Sunday and forwarded it to Noriega.
Acevedo, 57 and an outspoken nationally-prominent figure, came to Miami as a surprise choice from Houston only six months ago. Even his hiring upset several commissioners. Suarez and Noriega halted a lengthy search for a new chief that included several internal candidates, by announcing Acevedo’s hiring. At the time, Suarez called him the “Michael Jordan” of police chiefs.
Suarez, facing an election for a new term in early November, has avoided last week’s hearings and has yet to address concerns about Acevedo. He did say he’s paying attention to the goings-on at City Hall.