Miami Police Chief Kenneth Harms agreed today to reinstate five policemen suspended for alleged misconduct during the city's race riots last weekend.
Harms' decision came in the wake of threats from officials' of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, who said they would call for a walkout if the accused officers were not reinstated.
Four of the suspended officers were charged with vandalizing the cars of suspected looters during the riots, and one was accused of using excessive force in arresting an alleged looter.
The destruction of the cars and the arrest incident angered a black community already incensed over the acquittal of four Miami police officers who were accused of beating to death last December black Miami insurance executive Arthur McDuffle.
The acquittal, awarded by a white jury in Tampa, where the state trial was held, sparked the rioting here. Minor disturbances related to the verdict also occurred in Tampa.
Meanwhile, the riot claimed its 16th fatality today, a 53-year-old white woman who had been beaten and burned when she tried to escape from her car.
Harms, who has hiring and firing power over his law officers, called for the suspensions after an internal police investigation revealed that some officers assigned to riot duty had slashed car tires and sprayed the word "looter" on cars in a riot-torn shopping district.The suspension appeared to be sanctioned by Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, who publicly called the accused officers "bums."
Ferre's comment, too, angered city policemen, and today they were demanding that he be recalled from office.
"The mayor should be recalled because he's nothing but a demogogue," said Joseph Diaz, trustee for the Miami FOP. "When he's with the blacks, he says things to please the blacks. When he's with Cubans, he says things to please Cubans. He does the same thing with whites," Diaz charged.
In a televison interview tonight, the mayor said he has "never been popular with the FOP."
Ferre also has come under fire from police for appearing to support blacks' call for amnesty for persons arrested in the riot. However, he said in the television interview that he would support amnesty only for those persons accused of misdemeanors, but would back prosecution of persons accused of felonies -- in uniform or not.
The clash between the mayor and the police came as Michael Watts, 30, one of the four former policemen acquitted in McDuffle's death, was lying in a hospital bed recovering from what police call a suicide attempt.
Watts' attempted suicide Thursday evening stunned this already reeling town, as it did his lawyer, Philip Carlton, Jr. The ex-policeman apparently tried to kill himself by inhaling exhaust fumes from a motorcycle left running in his apartment.
"Mike came to my office Thursday to give me two meerschuam pipes as tokens of his appreciation for representing him. He showed absolutely no signs that he was thinking of suicide," Carlton said.
Watts and the three other acquitted former policemen have become the target of a federal civil rights investigation in the McDuffle case, largely because of the violent protest that marked the verdict in the Tampa trial.
Carlton said his client was "concerned about the new proceedings, but he wasn't what you'd call despondent.
"I'd say Mike was very confident about the federal investigation," Carlton said.
Still, the lawyer conceded, Watts "had just been through five months of mental torture" in the trial.
In another development here today, H. T. Smith, a prominent black criminal lawyer who is representing some of the persons arrested in the riots, was himself arrested -- for littering.
Police officials said Smith was given a citation for "tearing up a parking ticket and throwing it on the ground." Smith called the charge "ridiculous."
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "But that just shows you the mentality of some of the cops in this city."