Once hailed as 'the best police chief in America,' Art Acevedo is suspended in Miami

Oct 12, 2021
Originally published on October 12, 2021 10:36 pm

Updated October 12, 2021 at 3:48 PM ET

MIAMI — The city of Miami has suspended and intends to fire its police chief, Art Acevedo.

Miami's city manager Art Noriega sent Acevedo a memo Monday listing the reasons for his termination. Noriega said the police chief failed to follow department protocols, he had lost the confidence of his officers and had made improper comments that damaged community relations.

Acevedo came to Miami after gaining a national profile in Texas as a police chief in Houston and Austin. At a news conference announcing his hire in April, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called him "the best chief in America."

On Tuesday, Suarez was more subdued, calling his suspension "the beginning of the end of an unfortunate episode." Suarez defended the hire, saying Acevedo had "the qualifications and experience to be an effective chief of police." But Suarez said it had become clear that the police chief's personality and leadership style didn't work in Miami. Suarez said, "The status quo where a top city administrator is in a war with the city's elected leadership is simply untenable and unsustainable."

After taking the job, Acevedo quickly made some controversial moves. He fired two high-ranking officers and demoted others. He also started getting into conflicts with members of Miami's city commission. The growing criticism of Acevedo came to a head last month when, at a morning police roll call meeting, he referred to the people running the department as "the Cuban Mafia."

Art Acevedo, Miami Police Chief, joins in a Gun Violence Peace March on June 16, 2021.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Miami's city commission held two meetings grilling the city manager about the police chief's hiring. Three of the five members of the commission are Cuban-American and they made it clear they felt Acevedo's comments were aimed at them. Commission member Alex Diaz de la Portilla said, "He wants the press to believe that he is a great reformer that came...to get rid of the Cuban Mafia, the bad guys. Because we're the corrupt ones, right?" Diaz de la Portilla said, "We're supposed to take the hit? I'm not going to allow that to happen."

Like the three city commissioners, Acevedo is also Cuban-American. He was born in Havana but grew up in Los Angeles. He apologized for his comments, saying he was unaware that that Fidel Castro had often referred to Miami's exile community as "the Cuban Mafia."

Acevedo further angered officials with an 8-page memo he sent to the city manager detailing a series of incidents that he said showed improper interference by city commissioners. He said he planned to ask the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation.

In a statement announcing Acevedo's suspension, city manager Noriega said the chief's relationship with the police department had "deteriorated beyond repair" and that's it's time to find a new leader for the department. After learning of his suspension, Acevedo sent a memo to members of the police department saying he intended to keep fighting "to rid the MPD of the political interference from city hall that unfortunately continues to negatively impact this organization." Mayor Suarez says he understands Acevedo plans to contest his termination at a special city commission meeting later this week.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

To Miami now, where the city's high-profile police chief has been suspended and will likely be fired. Art Acevedo came to Miami from Texas after gaining a national profile as the police chief in Houston and Austin. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, Acevedo's outspoken style has not meshed well with Miami's political culture.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In April, when he announced Art Acevedo's hire, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez saw it as a coup, calling him the best chief in America. Today, Suarez was more subdued, saying his suspension was, quote, "the beginning of the end of an unfortunate episode." Suarez defended the hire, noting Acevedo had the qualifications and experience to be an effective chief of police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCIS SUAREZ: It is also obvious that his personality and leadership style are incompatible with the structure of our city's government. The status quo, where a top city administrator is at war with the city's elected leadership, is simply untenable and unsustainable.

ALLEN: Yesterday, Miami City Manager Art Noriega sent Acevedo a memo listing the reasons for his suspension. Noriega said the police chief failed to follow department protocols, had lost the confidence of his officers and had made improper comments that damaged community relations. Before coming to Miami, Acevedo was known nationally for his outspoken comments and frequent media appearances. He's also been controversial. At his introductory news conference in Miami, Acevedo said he believed his frank approach to policing worked well in Texas and also would here.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ART ACEVEDO: We're going to speak truth to power, especially Hispanic culture. We are going to - we may fight, but we'll love each other, and we'll fight with respect.

ALLEN: But after starting his new job, Acevedo quickly ran afoul of Miami's politics. He rankled many in the police department with controversial personnel moves, firing two high-ranking officers and demoting four others. He also became embroiled in conflicts with members of Miami's city commission. The growing criticism of Acevedo came to a head last month when at a morning police roll call meeting, he raised eyebrows when he said the department was run by the Cuban mafia. Three of the five members of the city commission are Cuban Americans and at a special meeting, said they felt Acevedo's comments were aimed at them. Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla represents parts of Miami's Little Havana.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA: That's what he wants the press to believe - that he is a great reformer that came to reform and get rid of the Cuban mafia - right? - to get rid of the bad guys because we're all the corrupt - we're the corrupt ones, right?

ALLEN: Like the three city commissioners, Acevedo is also Cuban American. He was born in Havana but grew up in Los Angeles. He apologized for his comments, saying he was unaware that now-deceased dictator Fidel Castro often referred to Miami's exile community as the Cuban mafia. Acevedo further angered officials with an eight-page memo detailing incidents that he said showed improper interference by city commissioners. He said he planned to ask for a federal investigation, and he reportedly told members of the department he could arrest some city commissioners immediately. That prompted this response from Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE CAROLLO: If he wants to come and arrest me without going through the state attorney's office or any probable cause, going through a grand jury, stop threatening me. Come right down, and do it himself.

ALLEN: After learning of his suspension, Acevedo sent a memo to the police department, saying he intended to keep fighting, quote, "to rid the MPD of political interference from City Hall." Mayor Suarez says he understands Acevedo plans to contest his termination at a special city commission meeting later this week.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.