Even by Miami’s standards, the rumor mill was in full churn Wednesday.
“People that normally don’t talk about politics are talking about this. People who normally don’t pay attention to City Hall are commenting on this,” said Horacio Aguirre, a longtime observer of City Hall politics and the shenanigans that so often accompany it. “It is unprecedented from all different directions.”
The way it’s likely to play out, according to more than a half-dozen sources who agreed to speak to the Miami Herald, but only under the cloak of anonymity, is much like how former Police Chief Miguel Exposito’s career in Miami came to an end a decade ago.
Exposito, under a national glare after his officers shot and killed seven Black men in seven months, was suspended pending termination by the city manager. Under city rules, that gave the chief five days to decide whether to leave or face a hearing before city commissioners to determine his fate. After two days of sometimes-searing testimony, Exposito was gone.
Acevedo, according to several sources, can expect to receive a similar suspension letter by early next week from City Manager Art Noriega.
“They’re going to fire him. They’re working on the memo. He knows he’s going to be fired,” said one law enforcement source.
Others in position to know about the letter said nothing has been drafted — not yet anyway.
“They just can’t fire him now. He (Noriega) has to build a case. They just can’t fire him for the memo,” said another source who works in City Hall.
Two weeks ago on the eve of a commission meeting held specifically to address controversial moves and gaffes by Acevedo, the chief forwarded an eight-page memo to Noriega that was made public and sent the city’s three Cuban American commissioners into a tizzy. In it, Acevedo accused Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes of interfering with police investigations.
Then the chief added some lighter fluid to that fire, saying his family escaped Cuba when he was a child and that giving in to their demands would would mean “Miami and MPD (Miami Police Department) would be no better than the repressive regime and the police state we left behind.”
Another political observer who still has ties to the city said that comment all but ended the chief’s stay.
“They're going to fire him. They're working on the memo. He knows he's going to be fired."
- law enforcement source, on the future of Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo
“They’re going to fire him because they’re the ones pushing the manager,” said Manuel Orosa, who was named Miami’s police chief after Exposito’s exit in 2011. “Threatening elected officials? Come on. You can’t fire three commissioners. The only person you can fire is the chief, and that’s the way to go. The bottom line is the city can’t sustain this public image.”
Several sources also said discussions to buy out the chief have been ongoing for several weeks. But during a fiery 75-minute meeting with his own staff last week, Acevedo said he won’t quit.
“They’re going to have to fire me,” Acevedo was quoted as saying.
Noriega refused to speak directly on any negotiations, saying “this is now a personnel matter between an individual employee and the city.”
The big issue now for the city manager is that morale among Miami’s 1,300 sworn officers is so poor and the relationship between Acevedo and the commission so strained that there doesn’t seem to be a path to stay, said the sources. Noriega said in a prepared statement Wednesday that he would no longer speak publicly about the chief’s future.
Should Acevedo choose to fight to keep his job, his outlook appears bleak with the majority of the city’s five commissioners sitting in judgment.
Earlier this week, Commissioner Diaz de la Portilla said it was time for Acevedo to “pack his bags.” On Wednesday, Commissioner Carollo wouldn’t go that far. But he bashed the chief’s hiring, saying Acevedo wasn’t vetted properly and that Miami wouldn’t have hired a rookie cop with a similar history.
Carollo said if a final decision gets to the dais, “then I’ll look at all the facts presented to me.”
The chief’s exit would be fine with Tommy Reyes, one of Acevedo’s biggest critics. The president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police has been at odds with the chief since he warned officers their jobs could be in jeopardy if they didn’t get vaccinated.
“I think the way the morale is now, the Police Department is never going to function as it should. In order for us to heal and work well, he has to go,” said Reyes.
Late last week, Noriega expressed similar sentiments but stopped short of saying the chief had to go. In a strongly worded memo to Acevedo, the manager expressed concern about officer morale and the department’s perception in the community and said the chief lacked “cultural awareness with regard to this community and its residents.”
From the day he came to Miami, it was evident Acevedo’s tenure would be rocky. The surprise hire by Noriega stopped a lengthy search for chief with several in-house candidates as finalists, in its tracks. Several commissioners questioned the move. It only went downhill from there for brash-talking Acevedo, who considers himself a reformer and who Miami Mayor Francis Suarez referred to as the “Michael Jordan” of police chiefs when he came aboard.
From the start, he was at odds with the legal community after complaining of short sentences and prisoner releases. Shortly after taking control of Internal Affairs, he went after the deputy chief and his wife, a police commander. They were let go two months later by Acevedo, who determined they didn’t properly report an accident by Cmdr. Nerly Papier after she hit a curb and blew out two tires. After that, the chief would be labeled a “hypocrite” for not properly reporting damage to his city-issued vehicle.
Later Acevedo would demote four majors, including one of the city’s highest-ranking Black female officers. The chief also suspended an officer for allegedly making a white nationalist hand sign. A week later, an old picture of Acevedo showed up with him making a similar gesture while he was police chief in Houston.
Then came the blunders.
After getting into a videotaped argument with a member of the white national Proud Boys movement, the chief “accidentally” took a photo with one of the South Florida leaders of the movement. He then angered the city’s three Cuban American commissioners when he said “Cuban Mafia” was running the Police Department, unaware it was a term used by Fidel Castro to paint Miami exiles who opposed his dictatorship as criminals.
Acevedo apologized. Then he insulted commissioners again, this time very much on purpose, with his eight-page memo.
Aguirre, the commercial real estate broker and City Hall observer, said Wednesday that the writing was on the wall.
“There’s no way he can continue to work inside that organization,” he said.