In November 2018, then-Miami police Sgt. Roberto Destephan captured himself on cell-phone video tossing a wooden box engraved with the Star of David onto a trash pile in the bed of a red pickup truck.
“We don’t need this shit either, man,” Destephan can be heard saying in the video, which was leaked to WPLG Local 10 News.
Then he tosses in a copy of the canonical Hebrew Old Testament while saying, “This crap? Fuck this.” He turns the camera toward his face and says, “Taking out the trash, dawg.” (The text is known as Tanakh — an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of its three main subdivisions: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim.)
The video, recorded about a month after a shooting that killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, caused international outrage and was circulated by TV stations everywhere. Local and national newspapers wrote about the officer who had desecrated a sacred text. The Anti-Defamation League released a statement saying, “We want to believe that law enforcement will always be there to protect us, regardless of who we are and how we pray. However, this incident erodes that belief and cripples the trust the community places in police.”
The Miami Police Department launched an investigation, and the city moved to fire Destephan, who appealed the decision. An arbitrator’s opinion obtained by New Times upholds the termination, asserting that Destephan’s misconduct “has resulted in irreparable harm concerning his status in the community within any capacity with the Miami Police Department.”
Destephan has yet to reply to a request for comment from New Times. The police department declined to comment on his firing.
Arbitrator John L. Woods Jr. states in his opinion that Destephan “cannot be rehabilitated.”
A former Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union vice president, Destephan has claimed the video was doctored and used in an extortion scheme to prevent him from running for the position of FOP first vice president. According to the arbitrator’s opinion, Destephan claimed to have received a typo-ridden email that read:
I RECOMMEND THAT YOU PUBLICLY RESIGN AS FOP VP AND WIHDRAW UR NOMINATION FOR THE UPCMING ELECTIONS. THE RESIGNATION NE MUST BE DONE PUBLIC LIKE FOP MAILER AND YOUR INSTA G PAGE.. I WAS CONTACTED BY SOMEONE ANONYMOUSLY WHO WANTS TO MAKE THIS VIDEO AVAILABLE TO THE MEDIA. I STOPPED THEM BACK FROM DOING SO, BUT IN THE END ITS UP TO YOU. THIS VIDEO WILL NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY IF YOU REMOVE YOURSELF FROM OFFICE BECAUSE WE DO NOT NEED ANTISEMETIC PEOPLE LIKE YOU REPRESENTING THE UNION. THE RESULTS OF THE VIDEO BECOMING PUBLIC WOULD BE DAMAGING TO THE FOP LODGE AND WHOLE DEPARTMENT DO THE RIGHT THING…
The union backed Destephan. An FOP statement claimed the “heavily edited” video was made years earlier, when the union office was being cleared of items, including religious books, that were infested with mold and termites. The union’s current president has not responded to New Times‘ request for comment about the arbitrator’s ruling.