Two North Miami Beach employees — one a police officer, the other a department office manager — are in hot water after trying to enlist some supernatural aid in the form of what they believed to be a Santeria practice, reports The Miami Herald.
Their alleged target: City Manager Lyndon Bonner, whose plan to slash the police budget prompted protests and union outrage this fall.
Their mystical material: handfuls of birdseed which, according to an internal affairs report, they hoped to scatter in and around Bonner’s fourth-floor office at City Hall.
But when they tried to recruit a janitor to sprinkle the seeds, she balked — and turned them in.
Officer Elizabeth Torres told investigators she meant the manager no harm: “I want to clarify, that it’s nothing malicious and nothing intended to hurt that person.”
She was told last week she faced termination over the August incident, which took place against the backdrop of a contentious budget season. Unionized city employees must go through an appeal process before they can be fired.
Office manager Yvonne Rodriguez, who is not a member of the union, was fired last week for her role in the plot.
While Santeria practitioners have argued that their practice constitutes a legitimate religion and bristle at depictions of the practice as black magic or witchcraft, they acknowledge that public displays of their traditions can spook non-believers. And both adherents and experts say that the Afro-Cuban religion, itself an amalgamation of Catholicism and African spiritual traditions, does not count malice — such as casting harmful spells — as one of its principles.
“Santeria is a very loose term that we on the outside use to generally characterize Afro-Cuban religious expressions. Santeria is not black magic. In fact, true practitioners of Santeria will tell you they are good and would never harm a person,” said Albert Wuaku, a professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at Florida International University.
Although a city press release sent out Wednesday said both women had been “terminated,’’ a city spokesperson said Torres had not been officially fired and was scheduled to meet with Bonner on Monday to plead her case.
Torres, a 24-year department veteran, told investigators she was motivated in part because she couldn’t attend union protests over budget cuts due to her work and school schedule. She said she does not practice Santeria but said she was familiar with the religion through family members, according to an internal affairs report released Wednesday.
The report found the women violated city rules with conduct that is offensive toward a fellow employee, conduct unbecoming of a city employee and conduct that brings the department into disrepute or reflects discredit on the individual employee.
Torres told police she had a joking conversation with Rodriguez about using birdseeds to get Bonner to “leave the police department alone.”
Torres said she knew the birdseeds would work because her son and daughter moved out of her home after she placed birds in a cage with birdseeds on her front porch.
North Miami Police Chief Larry Gomer has recommended a formal letter of reprimand for Torres and a 240-hour suspension. But in a letter to Torres dated Tuesday, Bonner wrote, “I believe the charges against you are extremely serious and I am considering terminating your employment with the city.”