The banner on his once-active but now-suspended Twitter account included a Miami Beach Police Department patrol car as well as a picture and biography of the department’s well-known spokesman. He even knew the names of Officer Ernesto Rodriguez’s dogs.
Now, more than three months after Beach police arrested Ernesto Orsetti on charges of impersonating an officer through a bogus Twitter persona, state prosecutors on Thursday dropped the case, saying they don’t have enough evidence to move forward. The Miami Beach police department isn’t happy about it.
“I understand they feel they don’t have enough to prosecute,” said Rodriguez, the real Miami Beach police spokesman. “The police department collected evidence indicating the defendant did indeed create the account.”
Orsetti, 48, who is described as an unemployed model in his arrest affidavit, was charged in October with impersonating Rodriguez on a Twitter account he created in January 2017. Police obtained a search warrant to go through Orsetti’s home computer. The charge, a third-degree felony, could have resulted in a five-year sentence.
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But Miami-Dade prosecutors felt they could not prove, under Florida law, that Orsetti was actually trying “to act” as Rodriguez.
Among the reasons: The fake Twitter account included a disclaimer that said “views are my own” and “[retweets] are just RTs.” And most of his activity was merely retweets of generally positive news about Miami Beach police.
The account was first noticed by multiple journalists, who passed the information on to Rodriguez. As the department’s lead spokesman, Rodriguez maintains a Twitter account that he uses to pass information on to residents and the media.
His defense attorney, Bobby Wells, did not appear in court but earlier this week told WFOR-CBS4 that the arrest was nothing more than a vendetta against Orsetti.
Orsetti’s October arrest report said the account was linked to an IP address where Orsetti was living. After obtaining Orsetti’s computer, police said they found emails from Twitter and photos that linked Orsetti to the fake account.
That’s not all. Investigators suspected Orsetti was posing as Rodriguez on “Grindr,” a social-media app that helps hook up gay men with each other, according to search warrants in the case.
Two men came forward to tell police that the person on Grindr was using Rodriguez’s photo found on Twitter, and also sent messages threatening violence. But investigators did not have enough evidence to prove Orsetti was the culprit.
Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said Orsetti was a familiar face from past incidents including an assault and robbery charge and for being banned from City Hall after employees complained Orsetti had been harassing them.
Miami Beach police found the impersonation troublesome for many reasons. Chief among them: The ability of Orsetti to spread false information to the media that could have been relayed to residents.
Rodriguez and Oates both said they were disappointed with the state’s decision, announced at a hearing in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The spokesman said there was a clear distinction between parody and impersonation in Orsetti’s tweets.
“He could have easily shared information that the media would have acted on,” he said.
In a prepared statement, the chief said he’s already expressed his disappointment to the state attorney.
“All the elements of crime are present and provable beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant should be prosecuted. If he is not, then someone else will do this again,” Oates said.