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3 Miami police officers fired over ‘target practice’ jokes on WhatsApp group chat

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MIAMI (AP) — An internal Miami police investigation has found three rookie officers joked in a group chat about using the city’s primarily black neighborhoods for target practice, a newspaper reported Friday.

According to investigation documents obtained by the Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/2hxDZZp), the officers told an investigator they were only joking. The newspaper said officers Kevin Bergnes, Miguel Valdes and Bruce Alcin were fired two days before Christmas. It said Alcin is African-American and Valdes has a black grandfather.

The remarks upset colleagues and came as the department is under supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice following a series of police shootings.

“It was senseless, young and reckless. It shouldn’t be tolerated,” Justin Pinn, an African-American member of a civilian board tasked with monitoring Miami’s federal policing agreement, told the paper. “Officers are supposed to be guardians not warriors. I don’t think what they expressed reflects the values of the department.”

Attorney Stephen Lopez, who represents the three officers, said the remarks were taken out of context and that there was no misconduct.

“Two of the officers have black blood pumping through their veins,” he told the newspaper. “To say that they’re racist is outrageous and ludicrous.”

Police union president Lt. Javier Ortiz maintained that the officers should have been reprimanded, not fired since their “messages were in poor taste, but weren’t in any way racial.”

The incident happened June 30 as the three officers were responding to other rookie officers’ questions about shooting ranges in a WhatsApp chat they often communicated in, the paper said. According to documents obtained by the Herald, the officers-in-training shared department information on that thread.

It said the documents show Bargnes, who is known by friends as a wise guy, sarcastically suggested the friend looking for a shooting range try a Bank of America, adding “they’ll even give you some cash.” He then suggested Model City — the police district that includes Liberty City and handles the bulk of the city’s shootings — as another shooting range location.

Valdes suggested a particular intersection in the Overtown community, according to the paper. It added Alcin followed up, saying Valdes “wouldn’t understand” until he’s worked there.

The next day, an officer warned them that their words were offensive even though she didn’t think they were racist.

The report said the three were found on Dec. 19 to have violated multiple department policies. They were considered probationary employees at the time, which gave Miami’s city manager the leeway to fire them without undergoing the procedures afforded fulltime officers.

Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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