What’s with war of words between Miami city commissioners and Police Chief Art Acevedo?

From compensation to special favors, police chief Art Acevedo and three of Miami’s city commissioners are in the midst of a ‘they said, he said’ tug of war

The Miami City Commission calls a special meeting about Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, but the top cop flips the script by putting some commissioners in the hot seat.

MIAMI, Fla. – Days before a special meeting called by City of Miami Commissioners, Miami’s newly appointed police chief worked to flip the script, putting some commissioners in the hot seat.

The special meeting started with Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes calling for an impartial and independent investigation into a scathing eight-page memo that Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo penned to the Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Arthur Noriega.

“I’ve never in my entire career seen a memo like this. I believe that he believes he’s being treated unfairly. I think he believes that he’s been meddled in his affairs,” said Alex Piquero, a University of Miami criminologist, who has been studying policing issues for more than two decades. “But the question is, do they like the way he is doing the job and that’s an entirely different question.”

And that’s a question with legal implications explains former federal and state prosecutor David Weinstein.

“The chief is setting the groundwork to ensure he can’t be terminated for cause, at least not on paper.”

(See the complete memo)

The memo accuses three commissioners, Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes, and Alex Díaz de la Portilla, of engaging in a pattern and practice of “official misconduct” and “unlawful behavior,” spanning claims they tried to interfere with an internal police investigation to accusing Carollo of being mad at him.”

“… For my refusal to arrest and remove his enemies and those who were exercising their First Amendment rights,” Acevedo wrote.

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It stemmed from a Patria y Vida event at Bayfront Park last July and a month earlier at a Calle Ocho event, where the chief said Carollo ordered him to arrest people the commissioner perceived to be “agitators” and became incensed when police did not immediately arrest people as he directed.

“According to the chief’s own memo, he responded to those allegations. The fact that the response didn’t fit in with what the commissioner had hoped doesn’t mean that the chief is derelict in his duties,” said Weinstein.

“Within his memo to the Mayor and City Manager, on page 4, Chief Acevedo mentions that he ‘had spoken to high level DOJ Officials in Washington, D.C, and have requested assistance in reviewing MPD internal affairs processes, and several non-fatal use of force incidents.’ This appears to be a reference to an already existing concern the Chief had, independent of the topic of his memo,” Weinstein wrote in an email to Local 10 News’ Christina Vazquez.

“Likewise, his reference in that same paragraph to his ‘intent to request assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Justice’ appears to be connected to the investigation of State charges against a private investigator. The remainder of the allegations contained in his memo are arguably connected to allegations of ‘Corruption by threat against a public servant,’ or ‘Official Misconduct’ all violations of Florida law and a second or third degree felony. Federal charges of obstruction of justice require a connection to a federal governmental official or an ongoing federal investigation.”

The FBI Miami told Local 10 News Monday that they are aware of the memo as is the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, which stated that they are prohibited from confirming or denying whether they plan to launch any investigation.

As far as neglect of duty, that would be one of the factors the city manager would need to show to terminate the chief for cause per Acevedo’s offer letter.

On Monday, commissioners ask the city’s human resources director about the amount of money that Acevedo was being paid and also his complete compensation package.

When Acevedo was offered the job on March 15, 2021, the compensation and benefits package included, among other benefits, a salary of $315,000, use of a 24-hour vehicle, an autombile allowance of $500 per month and a cell phone allowance of $200 per month.

(See the offer letter below.)

Carollo has expressed outrage over the chief using the explosive phrase “Cuban Mafia,” which the Cuban American police chief has since apologized for.

“Making a comment that is by all means perhaps not politically correct, that is not cause for termination of employment,” Weinstein said. “Cause for termination in this situation would be if the Chief of Police was derelict in the duties of his job.”

The memo also mention’s Carollo’s stated disdain for the chief’s public appearances — for Acevedo taking selfies, conducting interviews and interacting with the community.

“That is part of being a 21st century chief of police and most big city police chiefs are out there doing just that,” Piquero said. “In 21st century policing, you need to have a police chief who is out there talking to and engaging with the community because crime fighting is not a police job, it is not a community job, it is a police and community job. It’s not just sitting in a room on the 8th floor or 3rd floor of some building downtown. Nobody wants that. People want to see a chief of police who is out there in the community, talking with people, at protests, working with people.”

Weinstein said that based on the memo, it appeared that Acevedo “believes he is doing the job for which he was hired, which is to be the chief of police for the city of Miami and police the streets of the city of Miami,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, Reyes called for a resolution to launch an impartial and independent investigation into claims in the memo and claims from the Miami Fraternal Order of Police.

The independent investigation passed Monday in a 4 to 0 vote.

“We have to clear the air and the only way we can clear the air is with a thorough investigation,” Reyes said. “I am personally not going to pressure the city manager to make a decision to fire anybody. I just want everybody to know and if there is grounds for dismissal, I want it to be found and we go within the law, within the statutes,” Reyes said.

Jose J. Arrojo, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, released this statement to Local 10 News:

“The Ethics Commission does have review and enforcement authority for violations of the County and City of Miami Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinances as they apply to elected officials in that city. However, the Ethics Commission’s rules of procedure prohibit staff from commenting on open ethics investigations and I consider the prohibition to extend to confirming or denying whether the agency is reviewing a matter. Consequently, I am unable to comment as regards Chief Acevedo’s allegations.”

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local 10.com.