Miami Cop Spent Three Minutes Searching for Man Later Found Dead of Overdose, Panel Finds

Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel found that Officer Rebecka Rowley's actions constituted "negligence of duty."
Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel found that Officer Rebecka Rowley's actions constituted "negligence of duty." Photo by City of Miami Police
On the morning of June 9, 2021, Henry Diaz was picking mangos along NW 13th Street in Miami's Overtown neighborhood when he stumbled upon what he would later tell police appeared to be a dead body. He didn't have his phone, so he found a Miami police officer nearby and informed her of the disturbing discovery. She told him she was just getting off work but would call it in.

Nevertheless, Diaz checked on the body five hours later and found it in the same spot — an empty lot just south of SR 836 near the SpringHill Marriott Miami Downtown.

It turned out the officer, Rebecka Rowley, never called in the incident — instead, she spent a total of three minutes searching for the man herself, during which time she remained in her car, according to an investigation by Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP). The body was later found by another officer after Diaz called 911. Medical examiner records show the 33-year-old male had died of a fentanyl and cocaine overdose.

It's unclear who the victim was or where he was from. (New Times has requested the incident report regarding his death.) CIP records indicate he had been seen at a rehabilitation facility for drug use and was known to have overdosed multiple times in the past and had a history of depression.

After looking into the case, the CIP determined that Rowley's actions constituted a "negligence of duty" and other policy violations, including that she didn't notify the dispatcher or her supervisor of the incident and failed to activate her body-worn camera — an ongoing issue at the department.

"Officer Rowley admits she was told the male was sick or injured, yet she did not notify the dispatcher, her supervisor, and only spent approximately 3 minutes (according to vehicle’s GPS) driving into and out of the hotel before heading home," according to CIP records attached at the end of this story.
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The area where the 33-year-old man was eventually found by Miami police and fire rescue.
Screenshot via Google Maps
The CIP is an oversight committee of everyday civilians that independently investigates complaints of police misconduct. While the 11-person panel cannot formally discipline Miami police, it can propose recommendations to the department.

New Times asked the Miami Police Department (MPD) whether Rowley will be disciplined but has yet to hear back. An MPD spokesperson confirmed that Rowley was still employed with the police department as of Thursday.

Rowley was hired by MPD in September 2017. She has one administrative complaint and two citizen complaints on her record, according to the CIP. (It's unclear whether that tally includes the CIP finding. New Times has requested Rowley's internal affairs file.)

Last June 9, she had just ended an overnight, off-duty shift at Magic City Casino when Diaz approached her around 7 a.m. In a statement to internal affairs, Diaz said he told Rowley, "Hey I saw a body over there" and that he "specifically" indicated to the officer that the body he found was deceased.

But in Rowley's statement to internal affairs, she said Diaz expressed concerns about a "sick homeless man” and that he'd found someone who was sick or injured.

"He said, 'Go check by the Marriott, there is someone there who might be sick or asleep. Go check on him,'" CIP records show Rowley stated.

Rowley told police in her internal affairs statement that she drove past the Marriott, "taking a right at the hotel, driving down and following the roundabout before coming out and going home," according to CIP records. She did not leave her car or attempt to speak to anyone while searching for the man, whose body was found in a lot about a two-minute walk from the hotel.

Despite having been issued a body-worn camera, Rowley failed to turn it on and record the event, according to CIP records. This appears to violate Miami Police's body-worn camera policy, which states that "officers with a BWC shall activate their BWC for all investigative or enforcement contacts," including "responding to calls for service in an emergency mode."
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca