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Art Acevedo: Former Miami police chief sues city, claiming he was fired for being whistleblower

CNN logo CNN 1/20/2022 By Andy Rose, CNN
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 15: The City of Miami's new Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks to the media during his introduction at City Hall on March 15, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Acevedo is leaving his job as police chief in Houston, Texas to take over Miami's police department of about 1,400 officers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) © Joe Raedle/Getty Images MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 15: The City of Miami's new Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks to the media during his introduction at City Hall on March 15, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Acevedo is leaving his job as police chief in Houston, Texas to take over Miami's police department of about 1,400 officers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city's government and four city officials accusing them of firing him for being a whistleblower and exposing wrongdoing by city officials.

The lawsuit names Miami City Manager Arthur Noriega and city commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes.

"The Defendant Commissioners have repeatedly attempted to interfere with the operations of the (Miami Police Department) and use the MPD for their own personal benefit," the lawsuit alleges.

In the suit, Acevedo, who was sworn in as Miami's police chief in April of 2021, accused commissioners Carollo, Díaz de la Portilla and Reyes of attempting to get the police department to investigate their perceived political enemies and interfering in his Internal Affairs investigation of an officer serving on the city's security detail for city officials.

Before arriving in Miami, Acevedo served as a police chief in Austin, Texas, and Houston. He propelled himself to the national stage as a police leader who was highly vocal in discussions about police reform and public safety, calling for national standards on the use of force by police and marching with protesters after George Floyd was killed by officers in Minneapolis.

Acevedo's lawsuit says he aired his concerns about Carollo, Díaz de la Portilla and Reyes in a memo to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, the State Attorney's office, the FBI and Noriega in September.

In the lawsuit, Acevedo's attorneys said they consider that memo to be a whistleblower letter that is protected under Florida law.

After Acevedo released his bombshell memo, multiple City Commission meetings were held to discuss decisions and behavior of the police chief that commissioners found questionable.

Acevedo was suspended by Noriega on October 11.

The City Commission voted unanimously three days later to terminate Acevedo following a nearly five-hour hearing. They cited, among other things, a vote of no confidence in his leadership by the Fraternal Order of Police.

The relationship between Acevedo and the police department "has become untenable and needed to be resolved promptly," Noriega said in a statement at the time.

Acevedo became a CNN law enforcement analyst in December.

In a statement released by the city government, Noriega said of the lawsuit, "This was expected and I look forward to the opportunity to discredit these false claims made by the former Police Chief. It's clearly an attempt to retaliate against the individuals that held him accountable for his own shortcomings as Miami Police Chief and to attempt to salvage his professional reputation by casting blame on others."

In a separate statement, Commissioner Manolo Reyes denied the key allegations and added, "It is extremely unfortunate that Mr. Acevedo has chosen to sue the city of Miami and its elected officials for his own shortcomings as a police chief. We look forward to handling this matter in court."

Carollo and Díaz de la Portilla did not immediately reply to CNN's request for comment Wednesday night.

Acevedo is seeking reinstatement to his former position in Miami as well as compensation for lost wages and benefits and any other damages available under the Whistle-Blower Act, according to the lawsuit. In addition, he's asking for compensatory damages and the coverage of reasonable legal fees and costs.

Rock star police chief's tenure comes to a sudden end

When Acevedo arrived in Miami, he received effusive praise from the mayor, who called him the "Tom Brady or the Michael Jordan of police chiefs," but his relationship with city officials quickly soured.

Noriega said in October that Acevedo had lost the confidence of officers as well as the executive staff after three incidents in which Acevedo appeared to support a Covid-19 vaccination mandate for officers, received a vote of no confidence by the Fraternal Order of Police and witnessed his deputy chief "verbally assault his executive staff after a commission meeting and did not intervene."

Acevedo also announced "city policy without authorization to speak on behalf of the City of Miami" when he insinuated that the city was considering "vaccine mandates and a potential dispute with the Governor to defend that policy," a memo from Noriega said.

Acevedo told officers during roll call in August that the "Cuban Mafia runs the Miami Police Department," according to the memo.

His statement resulted in the alienation of a "large section of the department, his staff, and the public," the memo said.

Acevedo later apologized, saying his comment was intended to "highlight the importance of diversity within our own ranks and to lighten our discussion," but added that he has since learned it was "highly offensive to the exile Cuban community, of which I am a proud member."

Acevedo was given a chance to defend himself at the October meeting where city commissioners voted unanimously to remove him from the police department, but he chose not to do so.

The proceedings were "already preordained," and the hearing was "not a fair setting," Acevedo's attorney John Byrne said at the time.

During the hearing, Byrne said Acevedo was suspended as a result of his memo accusing city officials of wrongdoing, adding, "He had the courage to do what many of us don't have the courage to do, which is to speak truth to power."

At the hearing, Noriega's attorney, Stephanie Marchman, denied the memo was behind Acevedo's suspension.

"The chief failed to recognize or acknowledge what the issues were," Marchman said. "How is the city manager able to help move forward with respect to this department when effectively the chief does not recognize or acknowledge that there are problems?"

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