Miami police chief fired over disobeying orders

The Miami police chief who in two stormy years on the job clashed with the mayor, prosecutors and city manager was fired Monday after officials determined he disobeyed orders about personnel moves within the department.

The city commission voted 3-2 to oust Miguel Exposito, who had been with the department since 1974 and chief since November 2009. A majority agreed that Exposito ignored direct orders from the city manager, Johnny Martinez, not to demote or take other personnel actions against three top executives at the 1,100-officer force.

"I have nothing against the chief," said Commissioner Francis Suarez, who voted for the ouster. "This is simply, for me, a decision about upholding the character of the city of Miami."

Exposito's tenure has been marked by criticism over the fatal police shootings of seven African-American suspects, which he defended as part of a crackdown on high-crime neighborhoods. But Exposito could not overcome political spats with Mayor Tomas Regalado over raids on video gaming parlors and clashes with top Miami prosecutors over questionable cases.

Ultimately, he was suspended last week for disobeying Martinez's orders not to take the personnel actions and for failing to do enough to reduce overtime. The suspension led to Monday's dismissal vote, which followed a 17-hour hearing Friday.

"The chief has to lead by example. This may have been the last straw," said Al Millian, attorney for the city manager. "He's willing to circumvent authority to get his way."

After the vote, Exposito expressed no bitterness and would not speculate on his future.

"I'm going to move forward with my life and my family, and that comes first," he told reporters.

His attorney, Ruben Chavez, noted that crime is down during Exposito's tenure and argued that the chief should not simply be a puppet of city officials.

"You might as well put strings on this gentleman and make him do what you want," Chavez said.

The city of Miami is the largest of numerous municipalities within Miami-Dade County, most of which have their own separate police forces and jurisdiction. The county itself has the largest police department and sometimes overlaps with the other agencies.

Although Monday's hearing concerned other matters, hanging over the proceeding were the shootings by police of six men and one 16-year-old boy between July 2010 and February of this year. They occurred after with Exposito doubled the number of officers, now over 100, in specialized tactical units targeting violent crime in poorer neighborhoods long plagued by drugs and gangs. He previously said the units have made hundreds of arrests and taken some 1,000 firearms off the streets.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who represents the impoverished area known as Liberty City, said many people in her district supported removing Exposito by whatever means necessary. But she said she voted for his firing only because of his refusal to follow orders.

"It's about doing whatever is right no matter what," she said.

Most of the commissioners said they did not find that Exposito had ignored orders regarding reductions in officer overtime but a majority concluded he was insubordinate in taking the personnel actions. At one point, Millian even compared the situation to President Harry S. Truman's decision to relieve Gen. Douglas MacArthur of command during the Korean War.

"The city manager is the superior officer to the chief," Millian said. "He had two choices: obey, or resign. That is professional integrity."

Regalado, who backed Exposito as chief after his 2009 election as mayor, said the lengthy dispute has been painful for Miami but agreed that the firing was necessary.

"The authority of the city manager over the heads of departments should be clear and unquestionable," Regalado said in a statement, adding that he plans to introduce a new process for dismissing top department heads.

"Today, we turn the page and leave this ordeal behind us," the mayor added.

The search for a new Miami police chief will begin immediately. Exposito took over for John Timoney, a high-profile police executive who had previously served as chief in Philadelphia and the No. 2 slot in the New York Police Department. But he resigned shortly after Regalado's election.


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