An internal investigation by the Miami Police Department earlier this month led to the firing of three rookie cops who joked in a WhatsApp chat with fellow officers about using two of the Florida city’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods for target practice.
Officers Kevin Bergnes, Miguel Valdes and Bruce Alcin were let go two days before Christmas despite asserting to investigators that their comments were meant as a joke and that they didn’t mean to offend anyone. The Miami Police Department’s Public Information Office confirmed to FoxNews.com that the three officers were fired, but said it was not making any statements regarding the matter.
An internal affairs memo obtained by the Miami Herald showed that the three officers were part of a class of 30 recent police academy graduates in a WhatsApp chat called Post-22. In response to a June 30 post by another officer about shooting ranges, Bergnes mentions one in a Miami suburb before suggesting a Bank of America — “they’ll even give you some cash” — and then Model City, where the majority of the city’s shootings occur.
“Go to model city they have moving targets,” Bergnes said.
“There’s a range in overtown on 1 and 11. Moving targets and they don’t charge,” Valdes said about 40 minutes later, referencing another neighborhood, and then joked that “they even run scenarios and pretend that they’re shooting heroin.”
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Alcin added: “Valdes he wouldn’t understand till he work there.”
A number of officers in the WhatsApp chat took offense to the comments and one, Lawanda Lawson, warned them that their comments were offensive.
“I can take a joke but that one was distasteful,” she wrote. “And even tho it probably wasn’t meant that way, becareful ur words can come back to bite u.”
Bergnes was later reprimanded and made to apologize over WhatsApp and the trio thought the affair was over. An internal investigation, however, was launched and on Dec. 19 the department found that the trio violated multiple department policies involving social media, courtesy and responsibility.
As all three officers were considered probationary officers, Miami’s city manager was able to fire them without going through the procedures given to full-time police officers. The firing led to a quick retort from the head of the city’s police union, who said the three should have been reprimanded instead of losing their jobs and that the real problem was the neighborhoods mentioned in the chat.
“The FOP doesn't agree with the joking texts made about NW 1 Avenue and 11 Street,” Javier Ortiz, the president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, told FoxNews.com in a statement. “However, maybe the manager should be focusing on why that specific area is spoken about so often.”
Ortiz added: “Everyone at the MPD knows that when it comes to shootings in the City, that district is completely out of control. But, the manager rather focus on text messages than the senseless killings and violent crime in the Overtown/Model City areas.”
Stephan Lopez, the lawyer representing the three fired officers, said that the trio was fired not because of their comments, but because the Miami Police Department has been under heavy scrutiny for a series of questionable police shootings and that the texts came at a time of rising tensions nationwide between police and African-American communities.
Lopez added that one of the three officers, Alcin, is African-American and another, Valdes, has a black grandfather.
“They made these three out to be racists,” Lopez told FoxNews.com. “But these are just rookie cops who haven’t been on the force long enough to know better.”
Lopez said that he has yet to file a wrongful termination suit against the city as he hopes to solve the issue and get the officers reinstated without going to court.
“I’m going to give the city time to correct the wrong it did and I hope to this without litigation,” he said, adding. “I don’t shy away from litigation, however.”