Three Miami, Florida cops have been let go after they “joked” about using predominately African-American areas of town for target practice.
As the Miami Herald reports of what went down in a WhatsApp group chat shared by around 30 of the city’s officers:
‘”Anyone know of an indoor shooting range in Miami?” one officer asked. “Go to model city they have moving targets,” replied another. “There’s a range in overtown on 1 and 11. Moving targets and they don’t charge,” added a third.’
Now former officer Kevin Bergnes, supposedly “known by friends as a wise guy,” is the one who commented that the unnamed officer asking for help finding an indoor shooting range should try Model City, which refers to the police district that includes the African American neighborhood of Liberty City and, according to the Miami Herald, handles the bulk of the city’s shootings.
About 40 minutes after Bergnes sent his disturbing message to the WhatsApp group chat that has spelled the end of his policing career in Miami, another rookie officer, Miguel Valdes, who is among the three that were let go, chimed in similarly, saying, according to the Miami Herald, that the intersection of First Avenue and 11th Street in Overtown was another good location, adding that “they even run scenarios and pretend that they’re shooting heroin.”
After Valdes made his comments, the third now-fired officer, Bruce Alcin, said, “Valdes he wouldn’t understand till he work there.”
After the incendiary racist exchange, news of their comments slowly made its way up the chain of command with the officers ending up let go rather quickly on account of their status as “probationary” officers who completed their police academy training less than one year ago. Thus, the officers who have been let go were not required to be favored in the same way as those on the force as official full-time staff.
Some, including an attorney representing the now fired officers and the local police union president, have come to the officers’ defense, claiming that their comments were “in poor taste, but weren’t in any way racial.” Thus, the local police union president says, the officers should have been “reprimanded,” but not fired.
And, that, frankly, is stunning. Joking about using certain areas of town as target practice is simply indefensible, no matter what way you look at it.
As Justin Pinn, an African-American member of a civilian board tasked with monitoring Miami’s federal policing agreement, put it, “It was senseless, young and reckless. It shouldn’t be tolerated. Officers are supposed to be guardians not warriors. I don’t think what they expressed reflects the values of the department.”
Still, even though these officers literally joked about shooting people for fun, their attorney, Stephan Lopez, commented that “My clients are young kids. They’re young officers and they were off-duty. I can’t let their careers be tarnished when they engaged in no misconduct.”
To suggest that the officers “engaged in no misconduct” is simply ludicrous. Members of the police force aren’t let go for no reason.
The three officers being let go comes as the Miami Police Department is under intense scrutiny for a string of police shootings. Thus, the officers being kept on the force would, in fact, be a strike against any defense the department may bring up to try and show that it is, in fact, not racist.