After nearly two years of battling Mayor Tomas Regalado, Miguel Exposito has been fired as Miami's chief of police.
The chief was let go at a city commission hearing at city hall Monday, where commissioners voted 3-2 to uphold Exposito's suspension last week by City Manager Johnny Martinez.
"I am proud to have been the chief of police for this fine police department," Exposito said before making a hasty exit from city hall with his family and supporters. "I have always been proud of this police department and will always be proud of the police department as I move forward with my life with my family and that comes first. That, to me, comes number one."
Commissioners Willy Gort, Francis Suarez and Michelle Spence-Jones sided with Martinez, who claimed Exposito was insubordinate when he stripped three police commanders of their responsibilities without consulting him.
After nearly two days, including a Friday's hearing that lasted until after 2 a.m. Saturday, the commission voted shortly before 1:45 p.m. to turn Exposito's suspension into a termination.
"This is not a cause for celebration," Suarez said at the conclusion of Monday's hearing. "This is a sad day for the city of Miami."
Gort, Suarez and Spence-Jones all agreed that Exposito ignored Martinez's request to wait before taking the responsibilities of Assistant Chief Roy Brown, Commander Jose Perez and Commander Ricardo Roque away.
"I have to agree that (Martinez) telling him and going to him and giving him a direct order on holding off on this issue and (Exposito) decided to do something else to me is a case of not obeying a direct order," Spence-Jones said after the vote.
Regalado, who did not speak during the two-day hearing, said he was grateful to the commission for supporting Martinez.
"Today, we turn the page and leave this ordeal behind us. This has been a painful process for the City, but at the same time has demonstrated that our city demands that its employees respect their superiors and follow the Charter," he said in a statement.
Regalado's statement also talked about possible changes to the process for removing department heads.
"The first step to straighten and strengthen the efficiency and accountability in the administration is reforming the process for the removal of department heads. We have to turn this ordeal into a positive experience for the best of our City," he said. "Therefore, as soon as we finalize our budget, I will present charter reform options to the Commission to insure that our City never again has to endure a process like this ..."
Exposito declined comment on whether he would take legal action against the city for the firing.
On Exposito's side were Commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Frank Carollo.
"The truth of the matter is maybe the chief could have been more diplomatic with Assistant Chief Brown and Commanders Roque and Perez," Carollo said. "However, was there insubordination? No, and I do feel that all of this...could have been handled differently."
Monday's hearing began shortly after 9 a.m., with Exposito's attorney, Ruben Chavez, and City Manager Johnny Martinez's attorney, Al Milian, giving closing statements in the quasi-judicial hearing.
Milian called Exposito a "renegade" who showed "insolence, contempt and defiance" towards Martinez's commands. He said the issues between the city manager and chief of police could lead to "chaos and anarchy in the streets of Miami."
Chavez said the facts didn't show any cause for Exposito's dismissal. He also questioned the timing of Martinez's suspension, which most of the commissioners agreed was bad.
"I understand the timing, but he thought it was the right moment and we have to respect that," Regalado said. "This was about him being uncomfortable with the chief and the chief not responding to his directive."
Carollo criticized Martinez for not being responsive to his requests for information and likened behavior to the chief's alleged abuses. At times, the hearing turned into a bash session against Martinez, who was also blamed for not stopping the situation before it became a public spectacle.
"I did feel like I was on trial," Martinez said after the vote. "That was a little unusual. The tables turned and was focused on me."
Sarnoff said Milian's claims of anarchy in the streets was ridiculous.
"This city will go on whether you rule one way or the other," he said.
Spence-Jones said that for her, the issue came down to trust issues between Exposito and Martinez.
"You just can't work with people you don't trust," she said.
Exposito became chief in November 2009 after joining the Miami Police Department in 1974. He quickly fell out of favor with Regalado when he began to crack down on the city's gaming machines, after he claimed Regalado was interfering with the investigation.
Late last week, Exposito sent a letter to Martinez demanding whistleblower protection, claiming he had been 'unfairly targeted' by Regalado since December 2010.
At the hearing Friday, Exposito again claimed he was being targeted by Regalado for doing his job.
"I have reason to believe that I have been unfairly targeted by the office of the mayor for doing the right thing," Exposito said. "We have a mayor who's hell-bent on firing me and the manager has succumbed to that pressure from the mayor."
Martinez appointed Maj. Manuel Orosa, a 31-year veteran of the department, as interim chief. A search for a new chief is already underway, Martinez said.