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Miami Police Chief Retires

Aired April 28, 2000 - 11:20 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: In Miami, the political turmoil continues after the seizure of Elian Gonzalez Saturday morning. Just a few moments ago, the police chief, William O'Brien, announced he is retiring. This comes after a skirmish between the mayor and the city manager. Last night, Mayor Joe Carollo fired his city manager. Carollo had earlier demanded manager Donald Warshaw fire the police chief for failing to tell Carollo there was about to be a raid to seize Elian. Warshaw refused to fire the chief, Chief O'Brien. And just a few moments ago, the chief said he will go into retirement.


CHIEF WILLIAM O'BRIEN, MIAMI POLICE: I'm here today to announce my retirement. And the reason for that retirement is three-fold. First of all, I refused to be the chief of police in a city that has someone as divisive and destructive as Joe Carollo as mayor.


HEMMER: Live now in Miami, Florida, I want to take you to the removed city manager, Donald Warshaw, who continues a talk there in front of reporters


DONALD WARSHAW, MIAMI CITY MANAGER: They're not just cops. They're people who understand public service. They've reached out, they have partnered. We have been praised, we've won awards. Around the world, mayors, city managers, people from all the countries of the world have come here and studied and looked and seen what it is our cops do. How it is -- you will look at the Elian Gonzalez scene and you see all those cops without hats on, with casual kind of laid back body language, networking, talking, exchanging cafe Cubano and water with the crowd. Those are the cops that make up this police department, and they are the best. And they've been doing it now for years.

And for them to get bashed like this -- they're not perfect. They know it. They'll be the first ones to tell you, we're not perfect. We have stress too. We're a mirror image of the community. We suffer a little bit also. We have pain too. You know, we're human. We're not different than any of the people out in the street. You don't think we pained for Elian Gonzalez and his family? I'm a father, I care about those things, but that doesn't make the cops bad. Now, as far as Chief O'Brien's retirement: He called me this morning and he has a certain stubborn streak in him, which he and I have talked about often, and I could tell before he uttered a word past the first few that I knew what was going to happen here this morning. And he's made up his mind and I know it's a tragic loss for all of us, for the whole city. It sends a terrible message.

I, too, agree that the chief and I are going to work through this weekend. The chief is not going anywhere today or tomorrow. We know we have an important event here for the weekend. And you heard me say last night, you know, we have done Calle Ochos, Super Bowls, Orange Bowl parades and a host of things where millions of people have gathered.

Millions of people are going to continue to gather in our city, and we're going to make sure that the world watches a peaceful demonstration that, hopefully, will send a different message around the world about what Miami is. And Chief O'Brien and I are going to dedicate the rest of this day, and certainly into tomorrow, with the staff of the police department and other people in the city, to make sure that tomorrow goes without any hitch.

As far as future chief of police, I'll address that issue further on Monday as well as address the comments that were made yesterday regarding my termination by the mayor. I think it would be ill- advised and inappropriate to go into that issue today. But we will get together again Monday and talk about it. Right now, I just ask all of you in the media, when you cover this event tomorrow, to have the same kind of sensitivity that we're going to ask our police officers to have and I know they will have, and not in any way provoke or egg on anybody to step off the straight line and try make a mockery of what I know is going to be a very peaceful and wonderful moment for all of Miami, just the way it was that night that 30,000 people stood in the street and formed a cross with candles. And that's hopefully what we're going to have tomorrow.

That being said, I know you probably have some questions for the chief. And, again, to all you guys, men and women of the police department, you're the best. Keep on doing that job...


HEMMER: If you're just joining us, the man right there at the microphone is the police chief, William O'Brien, who just moments ago announced he is retiring from Miami's police force.

O'BRIEN: As soon as we get through this weekend, I'll be doing that. My primary thrust is to get through this weekend.

QUESTION: Are you going to stay until another chief is appointed or...

O'BRIEN: Of course, I'm not going to leave the department in a void.

QUESTION: Chief, do you think that Mayor Carollo was trying to make you a scapegoat for the incident at the Lazaro Gonzalez home where you were in fact forbidden by law to tell anybody about that incident?

O'BRIEN: I think the mayor still hasn't gotten over the fact that I didn't give him a call on that.

QUESTION: But you were bound by law not to do that, were you not?

O'BRIEN: I was bound by law, but even if there hadn't been a law there's no way I would've let him know about it.

And let me just say this, last evening one of the people who came up to the podium said they were offended because the mayor is Cuban and I didn't let him know and that's -- the suggestion was because he was Cuban, I wouldn't tell him. Well, the manager is Jewish, and I didn't tell the manager and it's not because he's Jewish.

QUESTION: One follow-up to that question: If in fact the news had gotten out, had leaked out that the INS officers were coming to that house, the possibility of violence and bloodshed would've been raised?

O'BRIEN: There's absolutely no question in that. If the word had gotten out, there would've been confrontations much, much astronomically greater than there would; putting not only the law enforcement personnel at risk, but the people in the house at risk, the child himself, the demonstrators, and even the media who were on the scene.

QUESTION: Chief, do you have the hope that your resignation or your retirement and a peaceful demonstration tomorrow might lead the commission to reconsider Mr. Warshaw's status and keep him on?

O'BRIEN: My primary hope is that the peaceful demonstration tomorrow, the focusing of frustration as -- that I spoke about, will aid in the healing process and will bring this community together.

WARSHAW: I would like to answer that. As I was walking in here today I was told that our mayor, last night after the commission meeting, ran to the "Marta Flora Show," Spanish radio program. And I'm told that he said, quote, "Watch what happens tomorrow, the chief is going to resign, and as a result of that, the manager will win some favor with the commissioners to save his job."

Well, I only heard that this morning. Let me tell you, number one, the chief shared with me this morning early on that he wanted to do something today. Number two, I'm not looking for favor from anyone, I'm not calling commissioners for their votes, I'm just going to do my job. The commission has its right to do whatever it is they please, but, this event, for a chief of police in a city like Miami, in front of all of you, to make a decision to resign or retire isn't being done -- Bill and I have been friends for a long time, he is not leaving to save my job. He is leaving because of the feelings he expressed inside, and I did what I did and I'm going to do what I do for the reasons that are righteous only and no other reasons. There is no deals being made, nobody's head coming off. So all those questions for me, they don't even exist. We are doing things because it is the right and honorable thing to do, end of sentence.

QUESTION: What does it say about the city of Miami that both of you have been forced out now within a 24-hour period?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think you probably answered your question right on itself, I think it's a rhetorical question.

QUESTION: Chief, the mayor mentioned -- not mentioned -- Elian but he mentioned police corruption investigations that are going on. Can you tell us anything about that and anything like this happened to be...

O'BRIEN: The mayor also mentioned that I'm looking at his calendar, and I can tell you he has got a greatly enlarged image of himself, not to mention a little bit of paranoia himself.

QUESTION: Chief, did, at some point in last several months, Mayor Carollo try to get money out of a trust fund in your department for whatever other purpose, and you refused him, and is that is part of what has gone here in your relationship?

O'BRIEN: Last September, in the budget hearings, he wanted a million dollars from the trust fund, which I didn't give him, and that obviously didn't make him too happy.

But it's police department trust fund, and what he wanted me to do would've been illegal.

QUESTION: Just for the record, if you could please, explain why you did not notify the mayor, why you did not notify the city manager...

O'BRIEN: All right. You know, what puts you in bad way, and I appreciate you asking the question, you are in a group of law enforcement officers here, and they are raising their head, rolling their eyes, and saying you got to be kidding me on that question, you know. The 320 SWAT missions that I have been on, no mayor has ever been notified by me or anyone else, not this mayor, not any other mayor.

And you know, Mayor Carollo has gone on record saying he has been notified of numerous secret operations and that. Well, I don't know by whom because not by this chief of police.

HEMMER: Clearly, a battle of words taking place in Miami, Florida today. New developments, surprising new developments hitting at the heart of city government there.

O'BRIEN: Chief Brooks was doing his job, he was doing his job that I ordered him to do. He was doing his job to ensure that federal officers and our officers wouldn't be in a firefight, and if anything comes from him -- to him as a result of doing that, it will be the most disgraceful day in this city. HEMMER: The police chief, the man with the microphone, announced about 15 minutes ago, he is retiring from the police force there. This fallout, widespread speculation after the raid on the Gonzalez family home, last Saturday morning, early. As we continue to pick up the question and answer we will dip back in now.

QUESTION: ... going to play in the picking of a new chief?

WARSHAW: I'm glad you asked that, and, I think it is important, particularly for those of you who are local, you understand this. The city of Miami has a charter. And the charter is the law of the city of Miami. And the charter says that directives can only be given to city manager as an affirmative vote of three members of the city of Miami Commission in a public meeting. What that means is that neither the mayor nor any individual commissioner can direct me, or any other member of the staff of the city. They can make requests.

Now, let me tell you something.

QUESTION: And if you don't follow the request, the you are fired?

WARSHAW: No, well, that -- the mayor only has authority to fire me. The mayor can't fire the police chief or anyone else. As a matter of fact, to be very blunt about it, this is a strong commissioner manager form of government. The mayor's role in the city, basically, is he has veto power, and he can be overridden. And unfortunately, there has been a sad situation in the city is that the mayor has had zero votes on the commission during his entire tenure as mayor. And a lot of that has to do with his divisive ways, which I will save for Monday.

But putting all that aside -- putting all that aside, I want you to know that I respect the fact that I work for six people. And Commissioner Regaloto (ph) and Commissioner Taele (ph) and Commission Sanchez (ph), Commission Gorton (ph), Commisioner Witten (ph), and the mayor are equal in my eyes because the Charter of Miami says that they are equal. And I don't give up my relationship with any of them for the other, regardless of what relationship they have with each other.

So understanding that, the selection of a police chief is the sole discretion of the city manager, whether it be this city manager or anybody else. And the hiring of directors is the stole discretion of the manager. And the directives to the manager come from the commission, not just from the mayor.

Now I understand the mayor has a role in this city, and I'll tell you, I admit we have a bad charter, the way it exists now, because the power is poorly divided. But it is what it is, it is the law, and until and if the voters of Miami change it, I continue to work for six people, not just for mayor. So I was never the mayor's manager, I was the manager for all six of them, the manager for the people.

QUESTION: To clarify, Mr. Manager, when you appoint a new chief, it will not be an acting chief or an interim chief, it will be a permanent chief who then could only be removed by a subsequent manager for cause; is that right?

WARSHAW: In the city charter, there is no such thing as an acting or an interim chief, you can only be the chief. So, whoever is appointed will be the chief of police.

QUESTION: And if you are not long for your job, the next manager would have to remove that person for cause, not...

WARSHAW: He would have to -- the way the process works, he would have to suspend the manager for cause that is articulate -- suspend the chief, we're suspending so many people I'm losing track here -- would have to suspend...

HEMMER: In a war of words this morning, in Miami, Florida, let's check out this ear piece here, let me get that out of here so I can talk to you plain and clearly. Surprising new developments in Miami, Florida this morning. Number one, the police chief, William O'Brien, just about 20 minutes ago, did announce his retirement from the police force, this the morning after the city manager was dismissed last night by the mayor, Joe Carollo.

Widespread speculation by the two gentlemen right there leads us to believe that, since they did not notify the mayor, Mayor Carollo, of that predawn raid they have indeed paid for it with their jobs. However, the mayor said, quite emphatically, the dismissal is not related to the Gonzalez matter.

While this fallout continues in Southern Florida, Elian Gonzalez still remains in seclusion in the state of Maryland with his father. We will keep track of it. It continues to be fascinating and developing, even at this hour.



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