Chief O'Brien took a bullet for the greater good of his city
Chief O'Brien took a bullet for the greater good of his city
Steve Satterwhite

Elian Made a Tough Guy Cry

When 56-year-old Miami Police Chief William O'Brien announced his departure from the force last Friday, about a dozen men and women in blue uniforms, gray suits, and shiny gold badges stood behind him to his right. To his left was City Manager Donald Warshaw. Reporters from the BBC, CNN, the national television networks, and a passel of local stations were filming. Hundreds of police officers hovered nearby, incredulous that Miami Mayor Joe Carollo was able to force O'Brien so easily from his job. What follows is O'Brien's statement, complete and unedited.

He enters the room to loud applause:

You know, you have to bear with me. At a luncheon yesterday -- a women's luncheon -- there were 300 ladies there and when I walked in they all started applauding and standing up. It was really something like a two-minute standing ovation. Quite frankly, it choked me up -- I sat down -- I was telling the ladies that my career has been such that I have done a lot of things. I'm a Vietnam veteran, air force pilot, SWAT team -- 320 missions -- and none of that bothers me. In fact not even standing up to the commission and telling them what I think [bothers me]. But you know when there is an outpouring of emotion, it chokes me up. So you have to bear with me a little bit.

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

[Loud applause for 35 seconds.]

Secondly at the commission meeting on January 13, I was asked about the demonstration on January 6 [in which police used tear gas to disperse exile protesters at Flagler Street and 57th Avenue]. And the commissioners wanted to know who gave the orders, who was responsible for the police actions on that date. And I said to them very clearly: I am the one who gave the orders. I am the one responsible. Last evening they spoke about the most recent events surrounding the Elian issue and they wanted to know again who gave the orders and who was responsible. And they didn't give me a chance to respond. But it's real clear and I want to say it again: I gave the orders. I am the one responsible.

And you know last evening the decision to retire occurred when I left the commission and I was getting into my car and a young police officer, Cuban-American police officer, came up to me and he was in his plain clothes. I have to say I didn't even recognize the young man. And he said, "Chief, you know I want to tell you, I want to thank you. I want to tell you that my family is not talking to me. I was there on Saturday," he said. "And I did what I had to do on Saturday. And my family is not talking to me." And he said, "Chief, you are the only one who said thank you." He said, "You came to the roll calls on the day after and you thanked me and the other officers."

And I know there is incredible anger and frustration in the exile community. I want to tell you, if you are looking for a focal point for that frustration, here it is. I gave the orders. And I think these family members are going to be embarrassed in years to come for the way they treated their sons and daughters, the way they treated our police officers. But the community as a whole, the community-at-large, that needs someone to vent their frustration on, here I am. I gave the orders. The healing has got to start. The healing has to start for this community.

The third reason that I am announcing my retirement is just that. I received calls in support from across the community. You can't believe how many I have received. And they have been from the African-American community. They've been from the Anglo community. They have been from the Hispanic community, and they've been from the Cuban-American community, although largely the Cuban-American community support has been silent. I don't mean silent as far as coming forward, but silent as far as going public. Members of the African-American community and the Anglo community have said we can bring out hundreds, we can bring out thousands in support of you. I refuse to be the lightning rod of divisiveness in this community. The community has to begin to heal. The community has to put this behind them. The community has to move forward. And I petition the community to do just that.

The last thing I want to say is that we have a major demonstration tomorrow. And I have absolute confidence that that demonstration will go well. The command staff will be there, I'll be there, the police officers of the Miami Police Department will be there. And we've got ongoing negotiations and discussions with those members. The professionalism of this department shall continue and I can tell you this: It's just been a great pleasure to be a part of this department for all these years. Thank you very much.

[Loud applause for 45 seconds.]


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