Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz tried to slither out of his arrest by means unavailable to us peons. “Call Rick,” he said.
Most of us don’t enjoy a first name familiarity with Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay — not like the motorcyclist pulled over in Key West Saturday evening.
Pepe invoked his specialness. “I'm Commissioner Diaz. I apologize,” he announced in an inebriated slur.
“You’re who?” the police officer asked.
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“I'm Commissioner Diaz from Miami-Dade County.”
Just in case the officer was unaware of his political proclivities, Diaz added, “I’m the most pro-police guy there is.”
Police had clocked his Harley-Davidson going 74 mph in a 30 mph speed zone. Images of the traffic stop captured by police video did not jibe with the commissioner’s contention that he had downed only a Cuba libre and a glass of champagne three hours earlier.
“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 arrest report.
The muddled guy in the video made for a startling contrast to the public image of the tough-talking, self-assured politician elected four times to the county commission. But a lot of us have overdone it down in Margaritaville.
However, most of us wouldn’t try to avoid jail by the clumsy reference to powerful friends. “Call Rick,” the shameless drunk said. “He knows me.” (The officer didn’t call the sheriff. Diaz spent the night in the pokey.)
Just three weeks ago, Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato went before the state Judicial Qualifications Commission to defend herself against an allegation that she had similarly attempted to worm her way out of a DUI arrest. A Boca Raton police officer said that when he pulled over a drunken Imperato in a 2013 traffic stop, she had flashed her judicial badge.
But judges are held to higher standards than county commissioners. The JQC had noted, “Imperato admits that because of her position, she should not have displayed her judicial badge or referred to her status as a judge in any way that could have been perceived as an attempt to use the prestige of her office to obtain preferential treatment.”
The JQC also said that Imperato should have submitted to a breathalyzer test. (Diaz, as did the judge, refused to take the test.) In March, the JDC had recommended that Imperato be fined and suspended from the bench for 20 days, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected the deal and ordered the commission to come up with something tougher.
Errant county commissioners have it easier. Diaz has to contend only with his constituents (and traffic court). On the police video, he can be heard lamenting, “My career is ended. It’s over.”
Not likely. The commissioner has a mighty campaign war chest to intimidate political challengers. Plenty of money to rehabilitate his tattered image.
If he needs a reference, he can always call Rick.