Former Miami Police Chief O'Brien dies of cancer

William O'Brien served as police chief 1998-2000

By Andrea Torres

TAVERNIER, Fla. - Former Miami Police Chief William O'Brien -- the city's 21st police chief -- died of complications with throat cancer on Thursday. He was 71.

O'Brien was born in Illinois, graduated from The University of Miami and served in the Air Force during Vietnam. During his long career, O'Brien spent more than a decade with the SWAT team. 

O'Brien became a police chief in 1998 and resigned in 2000, after the feds raided a Little Havana home to take Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban boy in the middle of a custody battle that made worldwide news and divided South Florida.

When Mayor Joe Carollo, a Cuban who sided with Elian's Miami family, told city manager, Donald H. Warshaw to fire him, Warshaw refused. Carollo was furious, because O'Brien didn't tell him that the feds were going to raid the home of Elian's uncle Lazaro Gonzalez to return the boy to Cuba.   

"I was bound by law, but even if there wasn't a law, there was no way I would have let him know about it,"  O'Brien said during a press conference to announce his resignation. "If word had gotten out, the would have been a confrontation astronomically grater than there was."


This iconic image shows a federal agent with his gun drawn as a terrified Elian Gonzalez is taken from his great-uncle's Little Havana home early in the morning on April 22, 2000.

O'Brien retired in Tavernier. His wife, Sharron O'Brien, survives him. 

A LEO Affairs user described O'Brien as a "true stand up guy, cop and chief. Probably one of the best we had here since Walter Headley." Another anonymous user said, he was a "gentleman all the way."



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