With Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo’s job hanging in the balance Monday, Commissioner Joe Carollo went to, where else, but the videotape.
As Miami’s new chief peeked occasionally down at an airing of grievances about his performance from a second-floor City Hall window, Carollo projected onto a large screen a long-forgotten Elvis Presley impersonation by Acevedo during a fundraiser — the outline of his crotch prominently displayed in the tight white one-piece outfit he chose for the occasion.
“Do you find it acceptable for your police chief to go out in public with pants like that, with his mid-section and pants so tight?” Carollo, freezing the video, asked the man who hired Acevedo.
City Manager Art Noriega didn’t answer. Dozens of people in attendance jeered.
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Even in a city with a rich history of strange things taking place behind the dais, Monday may have set a new standard for the bizarre — and outrageous.
“This is the absolute worst waste of time and taxpayer money that a commission can do. They’re not even questioning him about his job. Today was just a lot of grandstanding by commissioners. It was an embarrassment,” said criminologist and University of Miami Sociology Chairman Alex Piquero, who has also studied crime in Dallas, Philadelphia and New York City.
Meanwhile, just outside City Hall, a box truck outfitted with LED billboards drove around blasting a newscast from 2005 when Carollo was arrested on a domestic violence charge.
Commissioners on Monday — minus Chairman Ken Russell — gathered during a special session to discuss the past actions and the future of Acevedo, the 57-year-old chief who moved here from Houston six months ago with a solid national reputation. They were upset with a whole host of actions taken by the chief during his brief tenure.
Near the end of Monday’s lengthy seven-hour hearing, the four commissioners present appointed themselves committee members with subpoena power to investigate actions the chief outlined in a memo that was leaked over the weekend and accused some elected leaders of improperly influencing police investigations.
They essentially gave themselves authority to investigate themselves — and any other type of alleged corruption in Miami.
The chief’s memo said Acevedo was looking into excessive force used by some officers and attempts by commissioners to subvert decisions the chief made regarding personnel. He also said he was contacting federal authorities, though several commissioners expressed skepticism.
Commissioner Jeffrey Watson was named chairman of the committee and will be responsible for passing along any subpoenas to the city attorney, who was told to look for an investigator who could help commissioners in their probe. Also present at the meeting were Carollo and Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Alex Diaz de la Portilla.
Commissioners had questions about recent demotions and hirings. They were upset when a popular Sergeant-At-Arms named Luis Camacho was relieved of duty with little explanation. They didn’t particularly like how Acevedo was hired to begin with, when Noriega and Mayor Francis Suarez bypassed a lengthy interview process for a new chief with several internal candidates to suddenly name Acevedo the chief.
Commissioners were also furious at a statement made by Acevedo during an August morning roll call, when he said the department was run by the Cuban Mafia, later admitting he was unaware it was a phrase coined by Fidel Castro that referred to Miami exiles who opposed his regime as criminals.
But it was the last few paragraphs in the leaked memo that really created a stir. Despite his recent apology over the “Cuban Mafia” statement, the chief claimed the actions of some commissioners bore a resemblance to Communist Cuba.
“What he’s really trying to say, he’s trying to intimidate us,” Carollo said in response to the memo.
Noticeably absent from the meeting was Acevedo, who was spotted at one point peeking down into the chamber from some windows on the second floor between the city manager and the mayor’s office. Suarez, who also didn’t appear during the hearing, said afterward he followed it closely.
“I can share that in the weeks leading up to today’s special meeting I have been in dialogue with city leaders in an effort to address this situation as expeditiously as possible,” said the mayor. “And I will continue actively engaging all parties in search of a satisfactory resolution to this matter.”
Most of Monday’s meeting was spent with Carollo reading stories and memos about Acevedo’s history at departments in California and Texas. He occasionally stopped to ask Noriega if he was familiar with the chief’s past actions, like a lawsuit involving sexual harassment when he was with the California Highway Patrol and another in Texas involving rape kits that were alleged to have not been investigated properly.
“No sir,” Noriega said repeatedly.
At one point during Monday’s discussion, Carollo said that Acevedo had taken time off without properly using vacation or personal days. He also pointed out that the chief’s yearly compensation package was in excess of $437,000.
Late in the afternoon, audience members got about two minutes each to say their piece. About a dozen people spoke. The crowd was fairly split. Some argued complaints about the chief were blow-back for reform. Others argued he was a change agent finally willing to take on commissioners.
After the meeting adjourned, Acevedo was seen walking from a second-floor conference room where he spent much of the day, towards Suarez’s office. A source familiar with conversations between the two said they’ve been in discussion the past week over scenarios in which Acevedo resigned.
Commissioners also called for further discussion at 1 p.m. Friday, when the budget will also be discussed.