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Miami Police Chief Resigns

Updated:
MIAMI (AP) — The city's police chief resigned today following criticism from the mayor that he let his department get involved in the Elian Gonzalez raid — a dispute that has plunged the city government into turmoil.

The resignation came a day after Mayor Joe Carollo fired the city manager during a hearing where dozens of residents said they were victims of police brutality while protesting Saturday's pre-dawn raid.

Police Chief William O'Brien said he issued the order to clear his officers from around the house before armed federal agents whisked Elian away.

``They wanted to know again who gave the order and who was responsible. I want to say again, I gave the order and I am the one who is responsible,'' O'Brien said.

The 56-year-old O'Brien said he was retiring because ``the healing's got to start. The healing's got to start for this community.''

``I refuse to be the chief of police in a city that has someone as divisive and destructive as Joe Carollo as mayor,'' O'Brien said.

Carollo had earlier demanded that City Manager Donald Warshaw dismiss O'Brien for failing to warn the mayor about the raid to seize the 6-year-old Cuban boy.

Warshaw refused to fire O'Brien, and since only the city manager can dismiss the chief, the stage was set for the confrontation and Warshaw's firing. Warshaw preceded O'Brien as chief.

The city commission can overturn Carollo's decision if four of five commissioners vote to do so. In comments today, Warshaw said he wouldn't lobby to regain his job and noted that the mayor has little support from other commissioners.

The Miami City Commission voted to create a committee to investigate police involvement in the federal government's seizure of Elian and any police brutality that occurred during the protests. More than 300 people were arrested and tear gas was used to disperse crowds after the boy was seized.

More than 100 people came before the commission late Thursday and recounted what they saw or experienced during the protests that erupted in the wake of Saturday's raid in Little Havana. Some held pictures of people bruised, they say, by overzealous police.

``People were beaten on sidewalks, on private property,'' said Alfred Sklar. He said he saw his friends beaten by police. ``This is not correct. This is the United States of America.''

The firing of Warshaw came as the meeting began. Warshaw shook his head with a look of disgust as Carollo spoke.

``This is a painful thing to watch, obviously,'' Warshaw said at the time. ``I'm sad for all that's happening in our city. Please be calm, the eyes of the world are watching us.''

It is the latest case of political upheaval in a city recovering from an election scandal involving the previous mayor. Carollo came to office after a state appeals court unseated Xavier Suarez following a vote fraud scandal stemming from the 1997 mayoral election. An investigation also produced charges against 57 people.

Carollo insisted Thursday that Warshaw's firing had nothing to do with ``little Elian.'' The mayor said Warshaw has been criticizing him, lying and trying to turn department heads against him.

The police chief had an hour's advance notice of the 5:15 a.m. raid, but has said he didn't want to tip off the mayor, who unlike O'Brien is Cuban-American and had openly sided with the Cuban boy's Miami relatives.

After the meeting, O'Brien said: ``The only thing that worries me is doing the right thing. If you're worried about losing your job, you shouldn't be doing that job.''

Commissioners also passed a motion asking police department administrators to develop a plan to handle a protest planned for Saturday in Little Havana.

The plan is for police to be ``more tolerant to people exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. People who are honking their horns, waving flags and holding signs on the sidewalk should be left absolutely alone,'' Commissioner Johnny Winton said. ``But this does not extend to people burning tires, tipping over trash cans or breaking the law.''

There were hundreds of people outside the meeting, many of them calling for change.

``We respect the police, but they cannot continue to abuse their power,'' said Doris Herrera, 43, a Miami mortgage broker. ``When they come and push and shove and use tear gas, it cannot be tolerated. Not in this community, not in any community.''

The Rev. Richard Bennett Jr., 43, the executive director of the African American Council of Christian Clergy in Miami, stood among a small group that opposed Carollo's action.

``I've heard of people being fired for their jobs for not performing, but I've never heard of somebody being fired for just doing their job,'' Bennett said. ``This is why this community is divided. And this will divide it even more. Carollo is doing this for his Cuban friends.''

Also Thursday, a federal appeals court in Atlanta denied a request by Elian's Miami relatives to visit the boy and declined to appoint a guardian for the boy other than his father.

But the court still kept alive the relatives' appeal of a government decision to reunite Elian with his Cuban father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. The court put off a decision on the father's request that he be substituted for Elian's great-uncle as the boy's representative in the case. Such a move would allow the father to drop the appeal.

The court told the father that he could intervene — but the judges also said they would not consider whether to remove the great-uncle from the case until May 11, when arguments in the relatives' appeal are scheduled to be heard.



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