Miami narcotics detective sues former colleagues for defamation

Edwin Diaz was never charged but got booted from Miami-Dade’s narcotics unit


By David Ovalle
Miami Herald

A former Miami-Dade narcotics detective once investigated for stealing from drug dealers is suing fellow law enforcement officers — for sullying his reputation.

Edwin Diaz has filed a federal defamation lawsuit against the county and the internal affairs sergeant who investigated him, as well as a high-ranking Miami-Dade prosecutor. Diaz says his “personal reputation and professional standing” tanked because of the high-profile investigation. He was never charged but got booted from Miami-Dade’s narcotics unit.

His lawyer says Diaz, now a patrol sergeant in Kendall, wound up hospitalized for stress and lost out on untold overtime pay since being banished from the unit. “What they did to Edwin, I was shocked,” said his attorney, Ignacio Alvarez, a former Miami-Dade police major who filed the suit late last month. “He wants to make up the money that he never should have lost.”

The lawsuit goes after Matthew Fryer, the Miami-Dade professional compliance bureau sergeant who conducted the internal investigation into Diaz. The police department declined to comment. The Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The suit also names Howard Rosen, the deputy chief for special investigations at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The reason: Diaz claims Rosen defamed him by speaking about the case to a room of narcotics detectives several months after Diaz was removed from the bureau.

A State Attorney’s Office spokesman declined to comment. “As we have not yet been served with the lawsuit, it would be inappropriate to comment or respond,” spokesman Ed Griffith said.

The officer is alleging “malicious” prosecution and defamation, and that his rights as a cop under state law were violated.

Diaz has received several awards since joining the department in 1998. He was also honored for bravery after he was wounded by a shotgun blast while investigating a South Miami-Dade marijuana grow house in 2008.

But his career was far from unblemished.

In 2003, Miami-Dade police arrested him on charges of tampering with evidence, a felony, after he removed handgun casings from his home when officers arrived to investigate a 911 disturbance call there. A second officer, Sgt. Thomas Mangan, was also arrested after investigators said he lied about his role in the incident.

The case against Diaz fell apart, and the arrest was sealed and expunged from the court record.

In 2007, Diaz joined the narcotics bureau, where concerns about his conduct swirled. Over the years, at least six drug suspects alleged that Diaz had stolen from them. The complaints were never substantiated, and Diaz never faced charges or was disciplined.

Internal-affairs detectives used the complaints to convince a judge to authorize a GPS tracker to be placed on Diaz’s work car. And a confidential informant was used to start feeding Diaz tips to drug dealers, laying the groundwork for the corruption sting.

Ultimately, the informant tipped off Diaz that a known drug dealer would be holed up at the Inn of Homestead on Feb. 25, 2015, with cash and dope on him. But what Diaz and members of Squad C did not know was that the dealer had a fake name and was actually an undercover state agent.

The narcotics squad surveilled the hotel and “arrested” the supposed drug dealer, only to have internal-affairs and public corruption investigators descend on them. Internal affairs followed Diaz back to Miami-Dade police headquarters, where he impounded only $16,127 — $1,300 less than what had been planted as part of the sting.

The missing cash, however, was not found with Diaz. Instead, the cash was found in the car of Detective Armando Socarras, who was arrested on a charge of grand theft. He is still awaiting trial.

According to his lawsuit, Diaz was strip-searched, handcuffed, denied food and questioned for hours before he was released. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office ultimately decided it did not have enough evidence to charge Diaz with any crimes.

So why is Diaz suing? Among the reasons stated in the lawsuit:

  • In applying for a search warrant for the GPS tracker, Fryer did not tell the judge that the previous theft complaints “were unfounded or could not be corroborated.” The Miami Herald later published a lengthy article about the probe “based solely on the facts included in the search warrant,” according to Diaz’s suit.
  • A few months after the sting, Rosen and then-Chief Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo attended a roll call with the narcotics bureau to discuss various topics. According to the suit, Rosen told the group that Diaz was the “common denominator” in cases of missing money from scenes, but that investigators couldn’t prove any crimes.
  • Diaz claims that Rosen violated his rights by talking about the case a “room full of Officer Diaz’ peers” before the investigation was officially closed.
  • Because of the investigation, Diaz got reassigned to a less-than-plumb assignment: a unit known as the “real-time crime center.”

“Despite having served in some of the department’s toughest bureaus and units ... Officer Diaz spent the next two years monitoring security cameras,” the lawsuit said.

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©2018 Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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