Edwin Diaz is a Miami-Dade Police Officer assigned to the Department’s Narcotics Bureau. On February 26, 2016, Diaz was arrested as part of a sting operation being conducted by the Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The investigation focused on whether Narcotics Bureau officers were stealing money from crime scenes.
Diaz’s arrest occurred when, as he drove home, several of his fellow officers stopped him. Sergeant Javier Garcia ordered Diaz out of his car. Sergeant Garcia tackled Officer Diaz to the ground and placed him in handcuffs. The officers strip-searched him and then took him to the Professional Compliance Bureau’s offices. No contraband was found on Diaz.
Over the next 15 hours, the Miami-Dade officers detained Diaz. He was handcuffed, denied food, and was not allowed a phone call. While Diaz was held, another Miami-Dade narcotics officer, Armando Socarras, confessed and was arrested for grand theft for taking $1,300 from the scene of the sting operation. The Department then released Diaz.
In April 2016, the State Attorney advised the Department that it would not pursue charges against Diaz. A month later, Howard Rosen, the Deputy Chief State Attorney, and Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo attended a pre-shift roll call at the Miami-Dade Narcotics Bureau. There were approximately 40 members of the Narcotics Bureau present. Rosen advised the officers that Diaz was a common denominator on numerous cases with missing money. He indicated, however, that his office could not prove the case against Diaz.
The Department transferred Diaz to the Real Time Crime Center, where his job was to monitor security cameras. Diaz sued, claiming, among other things, that Rosen defamed him based on his statements at the roll call.
A federal court dismissed Diaz’s claim against Rosen. The problem, the Court found, was that Rosen’s comments were not “published” as required by defamation law. The Court reasoned that “it is simply insufficient as a matter of law that Rosen made the statements in a meeting with 40 officers and additional police personnel. The intragovernmental dissemination of information does not meet the publication prong. Moreover, a claim for defamation requires the unprivileged publication. Rosen’s statement to law enforcement is privileged under Florida law when speaker and listener have corresponding duties or mutuality of purpose.
“Even if Diaz’s allegations established a defamation claim, the question then arises as to whether Rosen has absolute immunity for his statements to law enforcement. Rosen argues that Florida law blankets him with absolute immunity, which expansively protects statements made by public officials in connection with the performance of the duties and responsibilities of their office. The public interest requires that statements made by officials in connection with their official duties be absolutely privileged.
“Any statements made by a public employee within the orbit of his responsibilities are immune. Given Florida’s expansive rule granting public officials, such as Rosen, absolute immunity for statements made in his scope of office, Diaz is unable to state a defamation claim under Florida law. Certainly, Rosen’s statements in a meeting with law enforcement fall within the ambit of his scope of work.”
Diaz v. Miami-Dade County, 2019 WL 7580764 (S.D. Fla. 2019).
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