Crime

Miami officer fired for calling Jewish holy scripture ‘trash’ on cellphone video

Miami suspends cop over ‘anti-Semitic’ video

Miami police on Friday suspended a sergeant after a video surfaced of him trashing Jewish religious items. The police union said the items were moldy and filled with termites.
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Miami police on Friday suspended a sergeant after a video surfaced of him trashing Jewish religious items. The police union said the items were moldy and filled with termites.

A veteran Miami police officer, suspended two months ago when a cellphone video surfaced of him tossing out Jewish holy scripture and calling it “trash,” lost his job Thursday.

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina fired 13-year veteran Roberto Destephan, a former leader at the city’s police union, after investigating the incident and over concerns that the officer’s credibility would be stained when testifying in future cases.

“There’s a lot of elements. It isn’t just what he said, but what are the consequences of that. Do we lose the public’s trust? Can we expect him to go out and do the right thing as a police officer? What happens in court if he makes an arrest? Does his character now come into question?” Colina said. “So these are things that if we have a victim, and he made a good arrest, is that victim going to find justice if he’s the primary officer testifying?”

In December, before an election ushered in new leaders at the Fraternal Order of Police, the union approved legal representation for Destephan. The new president, Thomas Reyes, reserved judgment on the officer. But Eugene Gibbons, a union attorney who is representing Destephan, said his client was simply doing as he was told, clearing out old items from the union office.

“The city is over-reacting and taking much too harsh a position,” Gibbons said. “I have no doubt an independent arbiter will see it the same way. I know it could be construed as offensive, but what he was doing is what he was told to do.”

Destephan had been on paid leave since a cellphone video of him tossing a wooden box with the Star of David on it and a copy of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, into the back of a truck outside the Fraternal Order of Police office in Miami began attracting attention on social media sites. During the incident, the former vice president of the union unleashed a series of profanities while looking into the camera.

In comments Colina called anti-Semitic, Destephan was recorded saying, “We don’t need this s--- either, man. This crap? F--- this. Takin’ out the trash, dog.”

Destephan and some members of the Fraternal Order of Police defended his actions, saying they were merely clearing out old moldy items from the office and that the cellphone video had been heavily edited and was being used to blackmail him during an upcoming union election.

Colina said the department looked into those claims and found no evidence to support them.

“After the investigation, we concluded there was no other circumstances behind what was being said other than what’s being said,” Colina said.

The Miami New Times reported earlier this month that Colina was moving to fire Destephan.

City Manager Emilio Gonzalez signed Destephan’s termination letter Thursday morning as the Miami City Commission met at City Hall. His termination letter said Destephan was fired, for among other things, conduct unbecoming an officer. He has 15 days to appeal his case.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He attended the University of Florida.
Chuck Rabin, writing news stories for the Miami Herald for the past three decades, covers cops and crime. Before that he covered the halls of government for Miami-Dade and the city of Miami. He’s covered hurricanes, the 2000 presidential election and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. On a random note: Long before those assignments, Chuck was pepper-sprayed covering the disturbances in Miami the morning Elián Gonzalez was whisked away by federal authorities.
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