Cover-up of police SUV damage and threats of arrest alleged: Police chief under fire

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Commissioner Joe Carollo continued his public lashing of Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo Friday, trying to draw the chief into a face-to-face confrontation, challenging him to arrest Carollo during the public meeting and accusing Acevedo of covering up damage to his city-issued vehicle.

At one point, Carollo sought assurance from City Manager Art Noriega that he wouldn’t be the subject of an extra-judicial killing should police show up at his door as retaliation for his strident criticism of the chief.

“I wanna make sure I’m not going to get stopped on a quiet street, or there’s a knock on my door... just on his orders,” the commissioner said. “I don’t want to end up with a couple of rounds in me.”

The comment came in the early part of a lengthy hearing at City Hall that lasted about eight hours. During the meeting, Carollo painted Acevedo as a deceptive, unprofessional cop who spends more time in search of flattering coverage from the media than on improving the city’s police department.

Miami police chief is under fire. But he has solid support with a key group — Black cops

The hearing, which focused on Acevedo’s actions during his first six months at the helm and the police budget, was a continuation of a discussion that began Monday. Much of the meeting focused on a memo Acevedo wrote last weekend that accused some commissioners of interfering with internal police investigations and compared the actions of the city’s three Cuban American commissioners to Communist Cuba.

Acevedo, seen occasionally behind a window overlooking the commission dais on the second floor of City Hall, never spoke. The commissioners were meeting to discuss the chief’s status and actions after a series of controversial moves and blunders, including one in which he referred to those running the police department as “Cuban Mafia.” It’s a term Acevedo was not familiar with and one Fidel Castro gave to Miami exiles to paint them as criminals for opposing his dictatorship.

‘Cuban mafia’ quote resurfaces

Friday’s meeting also served as an airing of grievances for other commissioners. Manolo Reyes and Alex Díaz de la Portilla expressed how offended they felt after it was publicized that the chief had referred to the police department’s leadership as the “Cuban mafia.” Díaz de la Portilla said Acevedo owed the older Cuban exile community a direct apology.

“The only thing I saw was on his Twitter account in English,” Díaz de la Portilla said. “To the people who were most offended by the comments, he never apologized. We all know that older Cubans, most of them over 75, don’t tweet.”

Reyes, who sponsored a resolution on Monday to hire an outside investigator to launch an inquiry into Acevedo’s allegations, blasted the media’s coverage of the chief’s Cuban mafia comments, arguing if similarly offensive comments had been made about other ethnic groups, Miami’s television and print media would have been up in arms.

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo is leading the charge among commissioners who are concerned over recent statements and actions by Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo.
Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo is leading the charge among commissioners who are concerned over recent statements and actions by Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo.

At one point during the discussion, Carollo claimed that during a meeting earlier this week at downtown police headquarters with his senior staff, Acevedo said he had probable cause to arrest people obstructing police investigations. He never named who those people were, said sources with knowledge of the meeting. In a memo Acevedo wrote two weeks ago criticizing several commissioners, he claimed that Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla were interfering with police probes.

On Friday, Noriega said he was informed of the meeting and spoke to Acevedo. He then promised commissioners no one would be arrested by Miami police. Carollo called Acevedo’s words “blackmail” and “extortion” and said he had attorneys at the ready just in case the chief tried to arrest him during the meeting.

The drama and theater at City Hall threatens to end the outspoken chief’s short, whirlwind tenure. Since he arrived, 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. He also demoted four majors, including the second-highest ranking Black female officer in the department.

Even as a majority of the commission clearly disapproves of Acevedo’s behavior, his future with the city remains unclear. The chief did not receive a no-confidence vote. Noriega has not asked for his resignation. Even Commission Vice Chairman Ken Russell seemed to signal Acevedo’s days in Miami were numbered when he said the chief had “failed” to navigate Miami’s political arena very well.

Suarez not at meeting

The man most responsible for Acevedo’s hiring was out of town Friday, the second meeting this week with the chief’s job on the line that Mayor Francis Suarez has not attended. During a Friday morning interview with the Miami Herald’s editorial board, Suarez refused to give a straight answer when asked if he still supported the man he once referred to as the “Michael Jordan of police chiefs.”

Carollo said Acevedo showed favoritism toward the controversial police Capt. Javier Ortiz, preventing Ortiz from being reprimanded by a superior. The commissioner also accused the chief of hiring a personal friend’s company to supply police uniforms at a much higher price than a previous vendor — apparel even the police union, which is warring with Acevedo, prefers because they’re more comfortable.

Another issue facing Acevedo was unveiled Friday when Carollo showed blown-up images of damage on the front right bumper of the chief’s Chevy Tahoe. The pictures were taken several weeks ago at City Hall, long before the city was informed about it. Once the damage was publicized, two high ranking police officers inspected the SUV and reported there was no damage. Last week, a mechanic working in the city’s General Services Administration said the fender and front panel were damaged.

Carollo echoed allegations from Miami Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes, that the chief had been hypocritical for not informing the city of the damaged SUV. That’s because one of the chief’s first actions after he was sworn in was suspending Deputy Chief Ron Papier and his wife Little Havana Cmdr. Nerly Papier for not properly reporting a vehicle accident.

Nerly Papier ran her city-issued vehicle into a curb and blew out two tires, then drove it to her parking space at the police station. After an internal investigation in which more than 20 witnesses were interviewed, the chief fired the city’s highest ranking police couple.

“It certainly looks like that hit something. It looks like a fender bender, but that’s not the issue. The issue is the lie,” Carollo said Friday, mocking a phrase Acevedo uses on his troops, “If you lie, you die.”

At the end of the hearing, Carollo, who is running for reelection this year, moved to take funding away from vacant senior level police department positions and use it to hire 10 more patrol officers.

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