Miami’s second-highest ranked Black female police officer, one of four majors demoted this week with little explanation by the new police chief, has informed the city she is seeking whistleblower status and intends to file a civil rights lawsuit.
Simmons believes she was targeted because she did not support the termination of the city’s highest-ranked married couple, a deputy chief and his wife, who commanded the Little Havana neighborhood.
Keandra Simmons, a 16-year veteran who oversaw the evidence room, once commanded Liberty City and was one of the city’s first Black female public information officers. She was told late last week by Chief Art Acevedo that she along with three others were being demoted and that the chief was hiring a new deputy who had worked for him previously in Houston.
The brief memo sent to senior officers last Friday said Acevedo decided to make the changes after speaking with every staff officer and members of the community. Simmons, 41, was rolled back to a lieutenant in field operations and had her salary slashed.
Late Sunday night, Simmons’ attorney Michael Pizzi filed complaints with the city notifying Acevedo, the mayor, city attorney and city manager that Simmons was seeking whistleblower protections and that the city had failed to explain why she was being demoted.
Pizzi said the major would move forward with a lawsuit “based on injuries sustained from defamation, racial and gender based discrimination, harassment, deprivation of First Amendment and due process right.”
The attorney said his client believes she was demoted for statements made as a witness when she was interviewed about the June firing of Deputy Chief Ron Papier and his wife, Cmdr. Nerly Papier — a controversial move by the new chief after Nerly Papier blew out two tires hitting a curb with her city-issued vehicle. The accident happened as the chief was introducing himself to staff and just three days before his swearing in.
The chief found that Nerly Papier left out important details during the investigation and that her husband didn’t recuse himself or speak up about a Miami-Dade State Attorney investigation into the matter. Pizzi claims Simmons was fired because she wasn’t willing to support the chief’s findings and testified that her commanding officer was aware of the accident and had seen pictures.
“He’s punishing her for the way she participated in an investigation,” Pizzi said, calling her demotion a “slap in the face to the Black community in particular all Miami residents.”
Late Monday morning Acevedo said he had not seen the letter from Simmons yet and he wasn’t willing to debate the issue publicly.
“If they want to file a lawsuit, that’s their prerogative,” the chief said. “When you’re in an appointed position, you know you’re [working] at will.”
Filing for Whistleblower status serves two purposes: It informs the city of a potential future lawsuit – a requirement that gives the city a chance to correct an alleged wrong – and it is supposed to protect Simmons from any retaliation.
Simmons attended the police academy in 2004 and has worked in administration, criminal investigations and field operations in Miami. She rose through the ranks to become a sergeant, lieutenant, commander and major. Prior to her demotion – which went into effect Sunday – she oversaw the city’s fleet and the department’s property room.
Acevedo’s new hires include his former assistant chief in Houston, Heather R. Morris. She will be Acevedo’s new deputy. Also hired as a crime analyst was Joelle Lee-Silcox, a recent Florida International University graduate in international crime and justice.
In a letter to the city, Pizzi said Simmons is seeking an immediate reinstatement to major and damages.
“Chief Acevedo is retaliating against Simmons because she refused to support Chief Acevedo’s reckless and knee-jerk witch hunt to take adverse action against Chief Papier and others,” said Pizzi.