Miami police have handed over an investigation into the disappearance of 11 missing handguns to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in order to deflect even the appearance of impropriety, the city’s top administrator said Thursday.
City Manager Daniel Alfonso confirmed that state police will now lead the probe, which involves the chief of police. FDLE is also looking into a late-night office-clearing over the weekend by Orestes Chavez, a recently retired police major also involved in the guns case.
“There’s an allegation that we were trying to cover something up,” Alfonso said. “We’re absolutely transparent.”
The disappearance of the decades-old guns from a property room some time ago has become a political hot potato, and pressure has mounted against Alfonso and Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes.
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Last week, Commissioner Frank Carollo mentioned the missing guns during a public meeting and used the issue — and a controversy involving a badly deteriorated storage container for evidence in homicide and death cases — as a jumping-off point to try to fire Alfonso. The next day, union president Lt. Javier Ortiz wrote a letter to state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle asking her office to demand that Miami’s internal affairs hand its investigation over to public corruption detectives.
There’s an allegation that we were trying to cover something up. We’re absolutely transparent.
City Manager Daniel Alfonso
Then, over the weekend, Chavez threw fuel onto the fire when, after being asked to finally clear out the remaining contents of his office following his September retirement, he did so on a rain-soaked Saturday — around 10 p.m. The timing, which Alfonso called “very inappropriate” in a Sunday email to city commissioners, stirred concerns given Chavez’s status in the open case of the missing guns.
“If a person being investigated for taking firearms during a rainstorm on a Saturday at 10 o’clock at night removing property from a police headquarters isn’t suspicious, I don’t know what is,” Ortiz wrote in an email that night, first published by blogger Al Crespo and later obtained by the Miami Herald.
Ortiz said a Miami police sergeant allegedly saw Chavez and an unknown man “deleting files from a City of Miami Police computer … as well as exiting in a hurry with a bunch of boxes.” Chavez, who could not be reached for comment, said he was clearing his office at the chief’s request and dropped his police key card in the process, according to Ortiz.
If a person being investigated for taking firearms removing property from a police headquarters during a rainstorm on a Saturday at 10 o’clock at night isn’t suspicious, I don’t know what is.
Lt. Javier Ortiz
The union president sent yet another letter Tuesday to city commissioners in which he said the Fraternal Order of Police supports any attempt to replace Alfonso. He claimed that Chavez was not authorized to be in the building, and that the city’s administration had yet to request outside intervention.
In an interview, Alfonso said Chavez did have access to the building because he was a reserve police officer, a status that was revoked Wednesday. He also said the state intervened after being contacted by Llanes, who declined to comment.
Either way, Carollo said he “welcomes the investigation,” and Commissioner Francis Suarez said he feels better knowing that an independent agency will take a look at both issues.
“It’s comforting that an outside agency is investigating this,” Suarez said. “The integrity of our department is of the utmost importance.”