Three high ranking Miami Police officers, including one of the most senior Black female cops in the department, will be reinstated as majors — ranks they were stripped of by the former chief during a scandal involving a crashed vehicle.
The officers, all veterans who have held numerous leadership roles over the years, were demoted by former Chief Art Acevedo during a purge that included firings and job changes that thinned the department’s top-ranked posts.
The move by interim Police Chief Manny Morales could also save the city money in the long run — if threatened lawsuits never materialize.
The news came as vindication for at least one of the three demoted majors. Mike Pizzi, an attorney representing Keandra Simmons, said his client is relieved the city is trying to make her “whole.”
“Unfortunately she’s become a victim of outrageous slander through public comments all driven by outrageous accusations,” Pizzi said of Simmons, a 16-year veteran who once commanded the Liberty City neighborhood. “She now feels she’s come full circle and that she’s been completely vindicated.”
Simmons is one of two demoted majors who informed the city earlier this year they were going to file lawsuits. The second-highest ranking Black female officer in the department prior to her demotion, she filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Simmons notified the city in early August that she intended to sue for civil rights violations and under the Whistleblower statute.
By law, there is a six-month window before a lawsuit can be filed. Pizzi said Friday there’s a chance it can be avoided.
“Once she’s reinstated as a major, I’m going to put in a request to sit down with the city and amicably resolve other issues, like back pay and benefits,” the attorney said. The attorney claims his client took a $50,000 a year pay cut with the demotion. “We haven’t received official notification yet. But it’s a move in the right direction.”
Two of the three majors were demoted to lieutenants on street patrol. The other was knocked down to captain by the former chief. What wasn’t immediately clear was if the trio would return to the same jobs. Simmons was a major in the property room. Jose Fernandez, who was demoted to captain overseeing the property room, was a major in Internal Affairs. And Richard Perez, also demoted to street patrol as a lieutenant, was a major in support services.
“They were staff before and they know what the job entails,” said Morales. “When I worked with them before I had no issues.” What Acevedo did “just didn’t make sense organizationally.”
The interim chief’s decision to reinstate the trio — bringing the number of majors in the 1,300-member sworn force back to 13 -— was made possible on Thursday after commissioners amended the police department’s budget. It allows Morales to shuffle $400,000 towards those three posts. Commissioners said the promotions wouldn’t increase the department’s budget.
Acevedo, who was fired in October after a tumultuous six months in which he fought with commissioners and alienated staff, demoted the majors in late July. He claimed they didn’t follow proper protocol after an early April accident that left two tires on the commander of Little Havana’s city-issued SUV blown out.
Nerly Papier crashed her SUV into a curb on Northwest Second Avenue not far from police downtown headquarters on April 2, three days before Acevedo was sworn in. The accident happened while the chief was meeting many staffers for the first time. It was a meeting in which he uttered the now infamous line “You lie, you die,” stressing police accountability.
An investigation into the accident was sparked after Papier drove the damaged vehicle to police headquarters instead of leaving it roadside and calling a tow truck, as is policy. Four months later, Papier and her husband Deputy Chief Ron Papier were fired.
Nerly Papier was let go, Acevedo said, because investigators determined she left out important details about the accident. Her husband lost his job the same day because, according to Acevedo, among other things, he didn’t recuse himself from the IA investigation or tell Acevedo about a Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigation into the incident — a probe that found no criminal wrongdoing.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report