Art Acevedo, who presided over deadly corruption abetted by lax supervision as head of the Houston Police Department, is about to be fired from his new gig as Miami's police chief, a job he has held for only six months. Acevedo's humiliating downfall is a remarkable turnaround from the effusive praise he received when he was hired in March.
Back then, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called Acevedo "the best chief in America"—the "Michael Jordan" or "Tom Brady" of police chiefs. Last night, City Manager Art Noriega said Acevedo had managed to alienate pretty much everyone through a series of gaffes, inflammatory statements, and controversial decisions.
"The relationship between the chief and the police department he leads—as well as with the community—has deteriorated beyond repair," Noriega said in a statement announcing Acevedo's suspension. "Relationships between employers and employees come down to fit and leadership style and unfortunately, Chief Acevedo is not the right fit for this organization."
Acevedo's dismissal still has to be finalized by the five-member Miami City Commission. But his harshest critics include three members of that body, who recently castigated him for more than 20 hours during two days of public hearings.
"Instead of taking the time to first commit yourself to developing and fostering truth both within the department and the community," Noriega told Acevedo before suspending him, "you were brash and hasty in many of your comments and actions." One incident that provoked the commissioners nicely illustrates Acevedo's penchant for saying dumb things when he ought to know better.
During an August roll-call meeting, Acevedo, who was born in Havana and raised in El Monte, California, joked that the Miami Police Department was run by the "Cuban Mafia." That remark did not sit well with Cuban-American Commissioners Joe Carollo, Diaz de la Portilla, and Manolo Reyes, who noted that the label harked back to Fidel Castro's portrayal of Cubans who fled his oppressive regime.
Acevedo apologized for the joke. "While the statement was made to be humorous," he said on Twitter in September, "I have since learned that it is highly offensive to the exile Cuban community, of which I am a proud member. I want to thank City of Miami Commissioners for kindly informing me this morning that historically, the Castro regime referred to the exile community in Miami as 'the Cuban Mafia.' Having been raised in the Los Angeles area as a proud Cuban, I was not aware of this fact."
A few weeks later, after persistent criticism of his job performance, Acevedo was no longer in a mood to patch things up. In an eight-page memo accusing Carollo et al. of interfering with his "reform efforts" and a "confidential internal investigation," Acevedo likened them to Cuban dictators. "If I or MPD give in to the improper actions described herein," he said in his closing paragraph, "I and my family might as well have remained in communist Cuba, because Miami and MPD would be no better than the repressive regime and the police state we left behind."
These are not the words of a man who is trying to keep his job. The other complaints against Acevedo included various personnel decisions that critics portrayed as unfair or hypocritical, his criticism of early prisoner releases and sentences he perceived as insufficiently severe, his decision to pose for a picture with a local leader of the far-right Proud Boys (Acevedo said he did not know who the guy was), and even his appearance at a fundraiser dressed as Elvis Presley in a tight jumpsuit.
While some of these points are debatable or trivial, Miami officials had ample reason to be wary of Acevedo before they hired him. Despite his self-portrayal as a reformer, Acevedo reflexively defended the Houston narcotics officers who killed a middle-aged couple, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, during a 2019 raid that was based on a fraudulent search warrant. He repeatedly lauded the cops—including Gerald Goines, the veteran narcotics officer who invented a heroin purchase by a nonexistent confidential informant to justify the deadly raid—as "heroes" while posthumously tarring Tuttle and Nicholas as armed and dangerous drug dealers. Even after Goines' lies were revealed, Acevedo bizarrely claimed the cops "had probable cause to be there."
In response to the raid, Acevedo announced belated reforms, including restrictions on no-knock warrants and a requirement that narcotics officers wear body cameras during drug raids. But even when it turned out that the whole operation was based on lies from start to finish, Acevedo denied that it reflected a "systemic" problem in his department's Narcotics Division, which had not been audited for nearly two decades. Investigations by the FBI and the Harris County District Attorney's Office, together with an alarming audit report released last year, painted a different picture.
Goines was charged with federal civil rights violations, felony murder, and falsifying government records. In June, his former colleague Steven Bryant, who had backed up Goines' fictional story about a drug deal that never happened, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of obstructing justice by falsifying records. Local prosecutors discovered that Goines, who was employed by the Houston Police Department for 34 years, had a long history of framing drug suspects.
"If the magistrate who Goines asked to sign a warrant to permit the raid on Harding Street had known of his history of lies and deception," District Attorney Kim Ogg observed last year, "he would not have signed it, and Rhogena and Dennis would likely still be alive today." Prosecutors ultimately charged a dozen Houston narcotics officers with various felonies, including murder, claiming phony overtime, and lying in police reports.
"Goines and others could never have preyed on our community the way they did without the participation of their supervisors," Ogg said. "Every check and balance in place to stop this type of behavior was circumvented."
In a federal lawsuit they filed last January, Nicholas' mother and brother say Acevedo, despite promising that "the facts are going to come out," stubbornly resisted their efforts to uncover the truth about the raid, including how and why Nicholas was killed. According to their complaint, Acevedo "simply removed…two fall guys—Goines and Bryant—to contain the investigation and dodge any meaningful review or oversight of the corruption that has consumed" Squad 15 of the Narcotics Division, which "operated as a criminal organization and tormented Houston residents for years by depriving their rights to privacy, dignity, and safety."
Acevedo switched jobs in the midst of this ongoing scandal—on its face, a puzzling career move, since Miami's police department is much smaller than Houston's. Given his history in Houston, his claim that he was fired from his new job because of his "reform efforts" is hard to believe.