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Miami's police chief is fired, South Florida preps for a busy event season, and the fate of Florida Memorial

Visitors walk through a past Miami Book Fair
Miami Herald

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter will change his plea next week.

The confessed shooter pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of pre-meditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the attack inside a campus building on Feb. 14, 2018. According to police, he confessed to the crimes.

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During a Friday hearing, presiding Judge Elizabeth Scherer agreed to allow the change of plea on Wednesday, Oct. 20, as long as state prosecutors are available.

Nikolas Cruz was in court for a hearing regarding a battery accusation against Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Raymond Beltran in November 2018. WLRN’s Wilkine Brutus joined the South Florida Roundup from outside the courthouse.

“Cruz and his defense counsel, pleaded guilty to four counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, including aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon,” Brutus said.

Brutus said he ran into Mitch and Annika Dworet, the parents of Nicholas Dworet, one of the victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Their other son Alex was shot but survived.

“Both parents said that they want the death penalty and didn't expect the situation to last this long,” said Brutus. “Of course, they don't have any experience with the court system, but they've been doing a number of self-care activities, like meditation, going to the beach, all in an effort to keep their spirits high. The defense wants to make sure that Cruz has a chance for life. The prosecutors are definitely seeking for the death penalty.”

Lori Alhadeff’s 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed in the Parkland shooting. She said she has been waiting for more than three years for the confessed shooter to have his day in court.

“You know, I'm never going to be able to heal, this is very painful for me and for my family. But we are ultimately seeking that he dies from the death penalty,” Alhadeff said.

Miami's Police Chief Is Ousted

The battle between city of Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo and a majority of the city commission has come to an end.

The commissioners unanimously voted to fire Acevedo on Thursday.

Acevedo declined to defend himself during the judicial hearing in which commissioners would decide the fate of his employment.

He spoke to reporters after the hearing.

“The department was and continues to be in need of reform. I have truly enjoyed meeting and serving with many wonderful members of the Miami Police Department, and this great community. I lament the fact that I will not have the opportunity to continue serving them,” said Acevedo. “And I want them to know that I admire them and will continue to support them and to fight for them.”

The city cited a series of missteps in its decision to fire the chief, including comments that Miami is controlled by the "Cuban Mafia."

The former chief says he was fired in retaliation after he accused several city commissioners of official misconduct.

NBC 6 investigative reporter Phil Prazan said the impact of the police chief and city commission will have a ripple effect on the entire city, especially if Acevedo’s allegations against the city’s leaders are true.

“If the FBI comes in and arrests people, that is only going to be more of a black eye on the city,” said Prazan. “But even if that doesn't happen, you know, talking to folks in the business community, in the recruitment community, the law enforcement community, this does already seem to be a black eye on the city of Miami. If the city is trying to recruit outside talent, outside money, outside business, they might look at this and say, ‘You know, I just don't want to go near that.'”

South Florida’s Busy Event Season is Back

Coronavirus restrictions are much more relaxed than they were a year ago, which means many of South Florida’s big events during the fall and winter months are making a comeback.

Theaters and performance venues will host in-person audiences and some of the region’s biggest events like Art Basel, and the Miami Book Fair are welcoming visitors as well. The Miami Heat’s new NBA season tip-off will bring big crowds back to the arena.

Matthew Jafarian , the Miami Heat’s executive vice president of business strategy said the organization is anticipating a packed house for their season opener against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

“We're really excited to have a whole bunch of people in the building at the FTX Arena for what is going to be a very exciting game,” Jafarian said.

But just because COVID-19 capacity restrictions have been lifted doesn’t mean everything is back to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Jafarian said fans will be required to wear masks at all times, except when eating and drinking, and ticket holders with seats near the players will need to show proof of having received a COVID vaccine or negative COVID test results.

The Palm Beach Opera will be celebrating its 60th anniversary this arts season. CEO David Walker says all patrons must show proof of a negative COVID test within three days of attending a performance or proof of vaccination.

“We also ourselves as a company, are making sure that all of our artists, chorus, backstage crew, everybody, anybody for the back of the house is also vaccinated,” said Walker. "We are requiring that with our staff as well.”

The Miami Book Fair is also making a comeback this year. Programs director Lissette Mendez said the Fair will be a hybrid model, offering in-person and virtual options for many events.

“We'll be asking everyone who comes to the fair to wear masks,” said Mendez. “We are encouraging everyone to be vaccinated. We're going to be as careful as we possibly can to make sure that everyone stays safe.”

Florida Memorial University

South Florida’s only historically Black university is working to maintain its accreditation and attract more students to campus.

Florida Memorial University is on probation for good cause by its accreditation agency, for financial and governance issues.

Accreditation is important for schools. Losing it can cost students and government grant money.

FMU is more than 140 years old and started in northern Florida. It has been in Miami Gardens since 1968.

Dr. Jacqueline Hill, the university’s provost and executive vice president, said the accreditation status is tied to a decline in student enrollment.

“Actually, the accreditation status is something that's been long brewing in regards to our declining enrollment that has been trending down for some time now, or a little over 10 years,” said Hill.” And with that downward trend, and its impact, the revenue that is generated through our enrollment. So that's really one of the primary reasons why we are in this particular predicament with good cause.”

Hill said the university is no longer concerned that it will have to close.

“Some of the conditions under the probationary status have to do with financial solvency and the governance of finances, and we are taking every step in order to ensure that those matters are being addressed,” said Hill. "We're highly confident in ensuring that one of the first things that we did was to recalibrate our enrollment target of 850 for this upcoming year, and we actually exceeded our target. We have over 960 students enrolled and over 320 are first-time and college freshmen. So we can definitely see a turn in our favor in regards to our enrollment."

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.