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In Miami, Cuban politics is invoked in police chief's performance

A feud is brewing between the police chief and the police union as well as city commissioners whom Acevedo accuses of meddling in the department.
Art Acevedo
Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, left, hugs a demonstrator on July 14, 2021, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, as people rallied in support of antigovernment demonstrations in Cuba.Wilfredo Lee / AP file

MIAMI — Miami Mayor Francis Suarez praised Art Acevedo as “America’s best chief” when he recruited him to lead Miami’s police force just six months ago. 

Acevedo had a national profile as a progressive law enforcer in Texas, with a deft touch at building community support. And as a Cuban refugee, born in Havana, he was presented as a perfect fit for the city’s Cuban American culture. 

But Acevedo — who grew up in California — isn’t a Miami Cuban, and it didn’t take long for his outsider status to clash with the city’s powers-that-be. Now a brewing feud with the police union and city commissioners whom Acevedo accuses of meddling in the department has come to a head, at a raucous meeting that puts his future in doubt. 

The commissioners called the meeting Monday to attack Acevedo and his leadership, ultimately voting to appoint themselves to an investigative committee with subpoena power to examine his appointment.

Acevedo, 57, was not present at the meeting, but last Friday he sent an eight-page memo to the mayor and city manager, accusing several commissioners of hampering his reform mandate by eliminating positions and interfering with internal affairs investigations. The commissioners said his allegations also would also be investigated by the committee, and scheduled a follow-up meeting this Friday. 

Acevedo came to Miami after serving more than four years as police chief in Houston, where he gained national prominence by calling for gun control, marching with protesters after George Floyd’s death and criticizing former President Donald Trump. He vowed to reform the department, acknowledging communities of color are disproportionately impacted by bad policing. 

But he was soon criticized after firing two high-level police officials and relieving of duty a sergeant-at-arms. The Miami police union said this weekend that an internal survey showed many officers were not confident with his leadership and wanted Acevedo’s ouster or resignation. 

Acevedo also angered Cuban exiles earlier this month when reports emerged that he talked to officers about a “Cuban mafia” that runs the city. He later apologized, saying he didn’t know that was a term former Cuban leader Fidel Castro used to refer to exiles. Three of the five city commissioners are Cuban American.

At the special meeting on Monday, Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo spent hours reading from a document that outlined instances where Acevedo was allegedly reprimanded in the past. He also questioned whether City Manager Art Noriega knew whether Acevedo had political aspirations.

At one point, Carollo played a video showing Acevedo entering the dance floor of a fundraiser to dance the cha-cha-cha and slapping a woman’s rear with a piece of paper, and another video of him impersonating Elvis Presley dancing the “Jailhouse Rock” in the iconic white jumpsuit.

“Do you find it acceptable for your police chief? Not that he was dressed up as Elvis, not that he was trying to pretend that he looked like Elvis, not that he was trying to mimic Elvis’ thingie, but that he would go out publicly with pants like that in that fashion where his midsection are in pants so tight,” he asked while looking at the city manager. “I am just going through parts to show what goes on through this man’s head.”

Later during the meeting, Carollo referred again to the “tight pants” and said the only time he wore pants like that was when he played football and had a jockstrap on.

Acevedo did not comment on the meeting, but he tweeted a picture of himself with the slogan “¡Patria y vida!” — “Homeland and life!” — in support of demonstrators against Cuba’s communist regime, after suggesting in his Friday memo that certain commissioners were acting more like the Castro brothers.

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