Miami commissioners accept city manager’s recommendation to terminate Chief Art Acevedo

Miami City Manager Art Noriega, left, and his attorney, Stephanie Marchman, defend his decision to suspend Chief Art Acevedo and his recommendation to terminate him on Thursday night at City Hall in Coconut Grove. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

MIAMI – Chief Art Acevedo’s suspension turned into termination of employment on Thursday night at Miami City Hall after a 6-month tenure as a designated outsider who had been tasked with reforming the Miami Police Department’s culture.

Miami Commissioners Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes, Alex Díaz de la Portilla, Jeffrey Watson, and Ken Russell voted unanimously to accept City Manager Art Noriega’s recommendation to terminate Acevedo. Russell described the meeting before the vote as “a quasi-judicial hearing.”

Two assistant chiefs told the Miami commission that Art Acevedo has lost the confidence of the rank and file and executive staff of the police department.

Attorney John Byrne, who represented Acevedo during the meeting, said the move to fire him had nothing to do with his performance, but with the 8-page Sept. 24 memo to Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez. In it, Acevedo accused Carollo, Reyes, and Díaz de la Portilla of intervening with a police investigation, of manipulating the budget to get in the way of reform, and of other misconduct.

Acevedo also wrote he wanted the U.S. Department of Justice to review the department’s internal affairs process and non-fatal police incidents of excessive use of force.

“He was suspended because he had the courage to do what many of us don’t have the courage to do: To speak truth to power,” Byrne said.

Attorney John Byrne said during a commission meeting on Thursday that Miami Chief Art Acevedo's firing had nothing to do with his performance, but with the 8-page memo he wrote to the mayor and the city manager. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Attorney Stephanie Marchman represented Noriega after he sent Acevedo a letter announcing his suspension and recommendation for termination on Monday. In it, he outlined eight points that include morale issues, off-color remarks, missteps in reporting car damage and vacation time, and issues with an unauthorized hire.

Marchman called Manuel “Manny” Morales, the interim chief and an MPD veteran, to the stand. Byrne made sure commissioners took into account that Morales had applied for Acevedo’s job. Morales said officers mistrusted Acevedo and were offended when he used insults such as Cuban Mafia, backstabbers, and snakes.

Morales also said Acevedo’s support of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which he does not support himself, upset some Miami police officers. Commissioners watched a video of Acevedo talking about his support of having officers vaccinated to protect the community.

“It’s a litany of things, but it perhaps boils down to the systematical or systematic demoralization of the police department that has been a result of his leadership style,” Morales said.

The commission watched a video shot by Joel Franco, a freelancer and vlogger. It showed a member of the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, asking Acevedo why he supported the Black Lives Matter movement and taunting him by saying he supported Marxists while standing on Eighth Street in Little Havana. The video shows Acevedo used an expletive and an insult.

During the meeting, Carollo said the Proud Boys’ member in the video is a retired U.S. Marine. Noriega’s other witnesses were Angela Roberts, the human resources director, and Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar, who had also applied for Acevedo’s job.

“Based on what we have seen here today, it is clear the commissioners have not a valid basis for terminating Chief Acevedo,” Byrne said.

Byrne didn’t call any witnesses to the stand and said the city didn’t give Acevedo enough time to prepare a defense. The commission said their charter calls for the matter to be completed within five days and voted not to allow public comments.

“We believe that this outcome is already preordained,” Byrne said, adding, “This is not a fair setting.”

Acevedo garnered support from advocates of police reform who praised some of his early moves, including the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association. As he pushed for changes with firings and demotions and the Miami Fraternal Order of Police opposed him, he might have miscalculated just how much backing he really had from the city leaders.

Suarez, who referred to him as the “Michael Jordan of police chiefs” after approving the hiring, said on Tuesday Acevedo’s “personality and leadership style” were incompatible with “the structure” of Miami’s government and confronting commissioners was “simply untenable and unsustainable.”

Acevedo didn’t testify during the meeting before the commissioners’ vote at City Hall.

“If chief Acevedo could say anything that would make any difference, he would, “ Byrn said. “It’s very clear what’s going on.”

To read more about what led up to Acevedo’s termination, click here.

Related social media

Read Acevedo’s memo

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."