Three rookie cops were fired after an internal investigation by the Miami Police Department earlier this month who joked in a WhatsApp chat with fellow officers. Two of the Florida city’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods were said to be used for target practice.
They emphasized to investigators that their comments were meant as a joke and that they didn’t mean to offend anyone. Officers Kevin Bergnes, Miguel Valdes and Bruce Alcin were let go two days before Christmas.
The Miami Police Department’s Public Information Office said that the three officers were fired, but no statements were made concerning the matter.
The three officers were part of a class of 30 recent police academy graduates in a WhatsApp chat called Post-22.
In reply to a June 30 post by another officer about shooting ranges, Bergnes mentions one in a Miami suburb before suggesting a Bank of America saying, “they’ll even give you some cash” and then Model City, where the majority of the city’s shootings occur.
Bergnes offered, “Go to model city they have moving targets.”
In response, about 40 minutes later, Valdes mentions, “There’s a range in (O)vertown on 1 and 11, moving targets and they don’t charge.” He then referenced another neighborhood, and joked that, “they even run scenarios and pretend that they’re shooting heroin.”
Another officer, Alcin, added, “Valdes he wouldn’t understand till he work(s) there.”
Lawanda Lawson warned them that their comments were offensive while other officers in the WhatsApp chat took insult to the comments.
Lawanda Lawson then chatted, “I can take a joke but that one was distasteful and even tho it probably wasn’t meant that way, becareful ur words can come back to bite u.”
The trio thought the affair was over until Bergnes was later reprimanded and made to apologize over WhatsApp. Then an internal investigation was launched and on December 19th the department found that the trio violated multiple department policies involving social media, courtesy and responsibility.
All three officers were considered probationary officers and Miami’s city manager was able to fire them without going through the procedures given to full-time police officers.
The head of the city’s police union retorted that the three should have been reprimanded instead of losing their jobs. They thought that the real problem was the neighborhoods mentioned in the chat.
Javier Ortiz, the president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police said, “The FOP doesn’t agree with the joking texts made about NW 1 Avenue and 11 Street, however, maybe the manager should be focusing on why that specific area is spoken about so often.”
“Everyone at the MPD knows that when it comes to shootings in the City, that district is completely out of control. But, the manager rather focus on text messages than the senseless killings and violent crime in the Overtown/Model City areas,” Ortiz added.
Stephan Lopez, is the lawyer representing the three fired officers. He said that the trio was fired not because of their comments, but because the Miami Police Department has been under heavy scrutiny for a series of questionable police shootings and that the texts came at a time of rising tensions nationwide between police and African-American communities.
“One of the three officers, Alcin, is African-American and another, Valdes, has a black grandfather. They made these three out to be racists but these are just rookie cops who haven’t been on the force long enough to know better,” added Lopez.
Lopez hopes to solve the issue and get the officers reinstated without filing a wrongful termination suit against the city and taking it to court.
Lopez said, “I’m going to give the city time to correct the wrong it did and I hope to this without litigation. I don’t shy away from litigation, however.”