Commission Ousts Exposito,Top Commander Resigns
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MIAMI (CBS4) – The Miami City Commission has voted 3-2 to terminate Miguel Exposito’s tenure as the Miami Police Chief.
The vote came after more than 19 hours of debate over Exposito’s decision to demote officers in direct conflict with an order from Miami City Manager Johnny Martinez to hold off on any decision.
Monday’s hearing concluded after more than an hour of discussions by commissioners on the merits of Martinez’s case against Exposito.
When the final vote was tallied, Commissioners Willy Gort, Michelle Spence-Jones, and Francis Suarez voted for dismissal; while Commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Frank Carollo voted against.
The main issue that commissioners worried about going forward was trying to heal the rifts that exist in the police department and between city hall and the police department.
Following the commission’s vote, Major Alfredo Alvarez, a close ally of Exposito, resigned from the department, CBS4 News has learned. Alvarez told CBS4’s Jim DeFede he expected his resignation to be official on Thursday.
Alvarez was the former head of Internal Affairs. After Exposito was suspended last week, the acting chief immediately removed Alvarez from his position in Internal Affairs. Alvarez was also the department’s expert on illegal gambling machines and often led the department’s raids on businesses using the so-called maqinitas.
The department’s crackdown on the illegal gambling machines was a major source of friction between Exposito and the mayor, Tomas Regalado, who championed the machines as a revenue stream for the city.
The vote came after commissioners heard closing arguments from the attorney for Miami City Manager Johnny Martinez, Al Milian, and from Exposito’s attorney.
Milian spent much of his closing referencing the cases of General Douglas MacArthur and General Stanley McChrystal. Milian was arguing that the allegations made by Martinez were in the same vein as the MacArthur and McChrystal.
MacArthur was relieved of command by President Harry S Truman after the general went public with his disagreements over the U.S. policy in the Korean War.
McChrystal resigned after unflattering comments about the President Barack Obama White House came to light in a Rolling Stone article.
Miliam’s argument was to portray Exposito in the same light as both of the generals who were insubordinate to their Presidents.
Exposito’s attorney stepped up next and argued that Chief Exposito had brought national awards to the department and that the demotions that sparked the city crisis weren’t demotions, but simply reassignments.
Monday’s hearing came after Friday’s marathon session featuring more than 15 hours of testimony and saw Exposito, members of his staff, and a host of other witnesses testify. As time wore on, commissioners began to get angry.
City Manager Martinez said Exposito failed to take steps as directed to reduce overtime and continued with plans to strip three police officials of key responsibilities despite orders to postpone that.
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 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!”
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.
Exposito, a 37-year department veteran, was suspended last Tuesday by City Manager Johnny Martinez who named 31-year police force veteran Maj. Manuel Orosa acting chief.
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.
As time wore on, Martinez finally hired Milian to sit next to him in the hearing to help him present his case.
Mayor Regalado released a statement later in the day saying in part:
“This has been a painful process for the City, but at the same time has demonstrated our city demands that its employees respect their superiors and follow the Charter.”
Regalado went on to write that he wants to use this episode as a means to kickstart charter reforms that will reform the process for the removal of department heads.
Major Orosa will continue as acting chief until the city manager and city commission can agree on a new chief.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said it was his belief that a new chief should come from outside of the City of Miami police force, due to the problems surrounding the department after Exposito’s firing.