Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz dropped a sheriff’s name and cited his status as an elected official during a Saturday Key West traffic stop that led to his drunken-driving arrest, according to newly released body-camera footage.
Videos released Monday afternoon show Diaz identifying himself as a commissioner shortly after being pulled over for traveling at more than twice the 30 mph speed limit as he cruised down Roosevelt Boulevard at sunset on his Harley-Davidson. “I’m Commissioner Diaz. I apologize,” he told the officer who had asked him to step to the side of the road, away from traffic. “You’re who?” the officer replied. “I’m Commissioner Diaz from Miami-Dade County.”
Minutes later, Diaz said: “Gentlemen, I’m the most pro-police guy there is. I apologize.” An officer responded: “Pro-police or not, you had no business driving a motorcycle tonight.”
Police cuffed Diaz after saying he failed sobriety tests, but Diaz declined to have his breath analyzed for alcohol. In handcuffs in the back of a squad car, Diaz is heard telling an officer: “Do you what you gotta do. My career is ended. It’s over. Whatever.”
In an evening press conference Monday outside his home in Sweetwater, Diaz praised his arresting officers and declared: “I am extremely sorry.” But he did not specify what he was apologizing for, and declined to take questions. “I will follow the judicial system because I believe in it,” Diaz said in his remarks, which he made without notes. “I will go through the process like anybody else that has been in this situation.”
“The police officers in Key West are — were extremely professional,” said Diaz, wearing a dress shirt and shorts that showed the orange bandage covering a burn wound a spokesman said was received when the hot metal of the Harley leaned on him during the traffic stop. “The Monroe County deputies in the jailhouse were incredibly professional. This is something I do not desire upon anybody. This is something that is extremely difficult.”
This is something I do not desire upon anybody. This is something that is extremely difficult.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose ‘Pepe’ Diaz
His statement came hours after Key West released footage from both a dash-board camera and recently issued body cameras that depicted Diaz in a T-shirt and shorts being cuffed by the hood of a squad car.
By refusing a breath-alcohol test, Diaz faces an automatic one-year loss of his driver’s license barring an administrative reprieve. As a county commissioner, he can have Miami-Dade officers assigned to the commission chauffeur him from his home to the office and official events. Also Monday, the office of Gov. Rick Scott said state lawyers were reviewing the Diaz incident. Florida’s governor has the power to suspend elected officials after arrests, though state law specifies a misdemeanor must be related to “the duties of office.”
An officer on the police video said he summoned a sergeant to the scene because of Diaz’s position as an elected official. “He said he’s a commissioner from up north,” the officer said. Diaz was ultimately charged with driving under the influence and spent the night in jail. Early in the traffic stop, Diaz said: “Call Rick. He knows me.” The officer responded: “Rick who?” Diaz: “The sheriff.” The sheriff of Monroe County, home to the Keys, is Rick Ramsay.
Now in his fourth four-year term on the County Commission, Diaz, the 55-year-old former mayor of Sweetwater, received only token opposition during his 2014 reelection campaign. The group that funded his opponent, the Pets’ Voice advocacy organization, issued a statement Monday calling on Diaz to quit or be forced out of office. “We say: Resign or Recall!” the email said.
Despite what he said in the squad car, Diaz does not feel his political career is over, said Brian Andrews, a former TV reporter who now runs a communications firm called The News Directors. “I don’t think that at all,” Andrews said of Diaz’s glum comments Saturday. “This is a personal matter.”
74 how fast police say Diaz was driving in a 30 mph zone
Andrews helped arrange Diaz’s press conference, and said he was the first to show the commissioner the police videos while the two sat in Andrews’ car.
“He really couldn’t believe the things that came out of his mouth on that videotape,” Andrews said, without specifying which parts of the videos pained Diaz in particular. “He is humiliated. He is beyond sorry.”
Police said they pulled over Diaz for going 74 mph in a 30 mph zone, and that they were suspicious when Diaz couldn’t keep his motorcycle upright in the early moments of the stop.
“As I pulled behind Diaz, I saw the motorcycle fall over onto its left side, noting that Diaz never put his foot down on the ground or attempt to kick out the kick stand,” Officer Gary Celcer wrote in the report. The video shows the motorcycle falling with Diaz still holding the handlebars, though he remained upright as an officer helped move it back to an upright position. It then briefly fell the other way.
Officers repeatedly cited the unstable motorcycle as evidence that Diaz should not have been driving. “All we’re trying to do is have a good time here,” said Diaz, dressed in gym shorts and a black T-shirt with the cigar brand “Cartel Baggers” in large letters. The officer responded: “Mr. Diaz, you couldn’t even put the kickstand on your motorcycle without it falling over. There is a very strong odor of alcohol coming from your breath.”
Shortly after the officer told him that, the camera showed Diaz saying: “There goes my political career.” The officer responded: “Sir, I don’t make the decisions on when you drink, when you drive.” Diaz replied: “Gentlemen, you’re doing your job. I know. Do what you got to do.”
Diaz was in Key West for the annual Poker Run biking event, and said he was driving his black Harley-Davidson “from the Casa Marina to the Marriott” behind another group of bikes. He said he had a rum and coke and a glass of champagne about three hours before the 7:15 p.m. traffic stop near mile marker 1.
The report describes Diaz failing the dexterity tests officers give to determine intoxication, including swaying during an eye test and losing his balance while trying to walk a straight line. In the video, Diaz cited a severe burn from contact with the toppled bike before beginning his tests. When asked to stand with his feet together, Diaz, a former Marine, instead stood with his feet apart, according to a report by Officer Alexander Rodriguez Jr.
“I told Diaz that I knew of his military background and to try and do his best and get his feet all the way together,” Rodriguez wrote. “Diaz asked me how I knew of his military background and I told him he had previously told me about it.”