Police

City of Miami Attempts to Fire Cop Caught in Anti-Semitic Video

City of Miami Attempts to Fire Cop Caught in Anti-Semitic Video
WPLG Local 10 News / Roberto Destephan via Instagram

Roberto Destephan, the City of Miami Police officer and former Fraternal Order of Police union vice president, filmed himself tossing Hebrew texts into a garbage heap outside an FOP office while calling the books "trash." After the video leaked to WPLG Local 10 News this past November, Chief Jorge Colina immediately suspended Destephan.

But while Destephan and former union head Edward Lugo claim the video was "edited" to look anti-Semitic and that Destephan was just throwing the books out because they were "moldy," New Times has confirmed the city is now moving to fire Destephan. City Manager Emilio T. Gonzalez said yesterday that Colina last week handed Destephan papers telling the cop he was to be "terminated."

But Destephan is not yet out on the streets: Due to city labor rules, Destephan has 10 working days to appeal the decision; if he does, a city board will have to rule whether the firing is justified.

"Last week, [Destephan] was issued a 'termination reprimand,'" Gonzalez said. "Basically, the chief can issue a reprimand with whatever sanctions he wants. In this case, the sanction was a termination."

Gonzalez could not confirm whether Destephan had appealed. He has steadfastly claimed the video was a "setup." At the time, Destephan was running for FOP vice president alongside incumbent president Ed Lugo. (Both men were close allies of Javier Ortiz, the demonstrably bad cop who formerly ran the union.) Destephan claimed his election opponents had somehow leaked the video to smear him.

In the clip, Destephan taped himself tossing a case etched with a Star of David into a pickup truck bed. He followed up by throwing out a Jewish Tanakh, a holy book that contains the Torah.

“We don't need this shit either, man," Destephan says in the video as he flings the books. "This crap? Fuck this. Taking out the trash, dawg.”

The union backed him up: Lugo, the former union boss, released a statement alleging the books "were contaminated due to mold and termites and needed to be discarded into the trash."

Chief Colina, however, said he could not see the video as anything but an act of anti-Semitism. Colina later briefed an employee of the Israeli consulate on the situation.

After the incident, Lugo and Destephan lost in the elections for FOP president and vice president. It's unclear if the union's new leaders, brothers Tommy and Matthew Reyes, plan to help their former opponent get his job back.

Update: Hours after this story was published, WPLG Local 10 reporter Glenna Milberg obtained text-messages from an "anonymous" complaint, which suggest that the video may indeed have been tampered with to some degree:
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.