MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A marathon meeting that was supposed to end with a decision on the fate of suspended Miami police chief Miguel Exposito instead ended without any action early Saturday morning, after Miami commissioners decided after 15 hours of testimony and maneuvering, they were too tired to take action. Their decision could possibly violate Miami’s charter.
Commissioners had heard testimony from Exposito, members of his staff, and a host of other witnesses starting at 9 a.m. Friday. A number of lengthy recesses pushed the questioning into early Saturday morning, with Exposito still facing questions from Commissioner Michele Spence-Jones and Al Milian, attorney for Miami City Manager Johnny Martinez, until almost 1 a.m.
Spence-Jones, considered to be the swing vote on the commission, probed Exposito about why he tried to demote three high ranking members of his staff, and when that effort failed, to remove their duties and responsibilities. Spence-Jones was concerned how the officers were told, and asked pointed questions about the inability of Exposito and Martinez to communicate.
Attorney Milian want after Exposito like a pit-bull, firing question after question, at one point causing a frustrated commissioner Marc Sarnoff to raise his voice at Milian and say, “you’ve asked the same question five times! Five times!”
Former Internal Affairs commander Alfredo Alvarez also faced intense questioning about police department policy and procedure, at times arguing with Milian, other times declining to answer questions Milian posed.
As the clock approached 2 a.m., both attorneys said they wanted to present summations, which proved to be the last straw for commissioners. Spence-Jones said she thought she and other commissioners were too tired to take action, and asked City Attorney Julie Bru if the commission could recess and finish at a later time, possibly next week.
Earlier in the day, Bru had deflected a Spence-Jones effort to delay the proceedings, saying, “The City charter says you must render judgment within 5 days,” but as midnight was fading in the rear-view mirror Bru changed her view, and told commissioners there was no reason they could not recess and resume at a later time, or even another day, to render their decision.
Both attorneys took issue with that, Milian pointing out that the Miami city charter clearly stated a deadline of 5 days, but commissioners deflected that by claiming the charter meant 5 business days, meaning the deadline for action could be extended until Monday.
Some commissioners, and the outside attorneys, wanted to reconvene later Saturday and complete the process, in “an abundance of caution”, but it was clear other weary commissioners didn’t like the idea, and Spence-Jones she had a conflict that would prevent her from attending.
Bru supported the delay, giving a legal opinion that it didn’t violate the charter, and despite warnings from the outside attorneys that such an action could toss the whole issue into civil court, commissioners voted to recess until 9 a.m. Monday. The attorneys will give closing statements then, and commissioners will decide Exposito’s fate.
Exposito, a 37-year department veteran, was suspended Tuesday by City Manager Johnny Martinez who named 31-year police force veteran Maj. Manuel Orosa acting chief.
“The Chief lacks judgment, leadership, and the ability to follow orders,” Martinez said as he went on the offensive early in Friday’s hearing.
The City Manager cited two specific actions for the suspension. The first involved an issue that took place last month when Martinez refused to give Exposito permission to demote three high-ranking police staffers. Martinez asked for more information before signing off on the move. Exposito nevertheless stripped the officers of their authority by reassigning them to desk jobs.
Martinez also said Exposito failed to take steps as requested to reduce overtime.
“I’m asking you for a plan on how you plan to reduce overtime. Period. End,” Martinez said.
Exposito fired back, “That’s exactly what I did.”
Martinez shot back, “You did not. This is not a plan of action.”
Exposito told the commission Friday that the officers were not demoted. Exposito said the staffers in question continue to hold their same rank and same salary as before any of his actions.
The suspended chief also said when it came to overtime, he was only given suggestions, not a directive.
“I think the claims are completely unfounded,” said Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez.
Nearly 12 hours into the meeting, Commissioner Spence-Jones questioned if police overtime issues and job demotions are a fireable offense.
“I don’t even know what we’re doing!” said Spence Jones. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t just sit around and work this out.”
Friday’s meeting couldn’t get underway before a potential roadblock had to be overcome.
Commissioner Spence-Jones tried to move the chief’s hearing until October. She received some support from fellow commissioners.
“Do I believe this is the wrong time,” Miami Commissioner Frank Corrollo asked, “absolutely.”
Miami City Attorney Julie Bru shot down Spence-Jones’ argument quickly.
“The City charter says you must render judgment within 5 days,” Bru told the commission.
After that hurdle was finally cleared, the commission heard city manager Johnny Martinez make his case and Exposito finally was able to start defending himself.
Besides the claims of insubordination, a separate issue under Exposito has been a series of police-involved shootings in the African-American community.
“If these commissioners cannot get rid of this chief, this community will be in an uproar, especially in the African community,” said Reverend Jerome Starling.
Exposito has repeatedly clashed with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, mainly over an investigation into alleged gambling operations supported by Regalado.
Throughout the early parts of the hearing, a camera focused on Exposito in the hearing showed Regalado sitting just behind him staring a hole through the suspended chief.
“I have reason to believe that I have been unfairly targeted by the office of the mayor for doing the right thing,” Exposito said. “I have been offered money to leave. I have been extorted.”
The chief wasn’t through calling out the mayor saying the entire incident has nothing to do with not following orders.
“We have a mayor who is hell bent on firing on me and the (city) manager has succumbed to that pressure,” Exposito said.
Things began to turn in the afternoon as the focus turned from Exposito to Martinez.
“Why did you want to look at the internal affairs files,” Exposito’s attorney asked Martinez.
Exposito’s attorney was questioning the city manager for suspending the chief and replacing the major over internal affairs. The move allowed the acting chief access to investigations into city and police officials. That information made it back to city hall.
“I didn’t look at the files, he told me,” Martinez said.
Martinez began to get frazzled as the hearing continued.
“If I had the opportunity to have an attorney here and have the city pay for it I wouldn’t,” Martinez asked.
It turns out, Martinez utilized the second recess of the day, which lasted at least two hours to find an attorney himself.
Martinez hired former PBA attorney Alberto Milian to sit next to him to help him answer questions during the rest of the hearing.