A Tragedy of Errors

A police officer died while doing his job. But why is his department spreading untruths about his final call?

Here's what he didn't know: The security guard, 58-year-old Brian Connelly, called 911 to report Caulfield as a suspicious person. Why?

"I wasn't even going to make the call," Connelly told me in his first interview on the incident. "But when I told the owner and general manager about it, they said, 'Call the police right now.' I picked up the phone, dialed 911, and the rest is history."

Connelly says he and Boardwalk management have been "hypervigilant" since a violent armed robbery occurred at the club just days before. Did Caulfield show him a badge?

Private dick Max Caulfield with the tools of his trade
Melissa Jones
Private dick Max Caulfield with the tools of his trade

"No, and I never, ever, ever told anyone that he flashed a badge," Connelly answers.

The only place where Connelly's version of events differs with Caulfield's is that he claims the P.I. first identified himself only as a "detective" before clarifying that he owned a private agency. Connelly says that he may have told the 911 dispatcher that he seemed to be impersonating a police officer but made it clear that he identified himself as a gumshoe.

"It's a tragedy of errors," observes Connelly, who says he is "profoundly sad" about what happened and will never be the same.

It's all starting to sound like the children's game Telephone, with information getting mangled as it's transmitted from one person to the next. The director of public information, David Hebert, didn't return my messages prior to deadline. Spokesman Bill Schultz refused to answer any questions or release the 911 tape, saying Diaz's death is still under investigation.

Most troubling, Schultz has continued to repeat the falsehood about the badge to the media, perhaps because it helps make sense of why police were so agitated when they stopped Caulfield on I-95. It's clear that Diaz and other officers responding were indeed under the impression that Caulfield had flashed a police badge.

As he drove south on I-95 that night near the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, Caulfield noticed that two patrol cars were behind him with their blue lights flashing. He knew from his own extensive training what that meant. It was a felony stop — and that meant the police would be ready to shoot to kill.

Caulfield has been through a lot in his life. He was an informant in a Mob case in Chicago that led him to the Witness Protection Program (his real name isn't Max Caulfield — that's a federal fiction). He was kicked out of the program on a technicality and during the two decades since has worked as a private investigator. In that time, one of his partners turned out to be a spree killer and another a crack-addicted stalker.

Through all the madness, however, he'd never been the subject of a felony stop — and nothing could have prepared him for what was about to happen.

Once he was parked in the emergency lane, the lead officer, who Caulfield later learned was a Wilton Manors cop, barked something at him, but he couldn't make it out over the roar of traffic.

Then he heard the officer yell, "Get out of the car!"

This was something of a delicate situation. A 9mm pistol was holstered on Caulfield's hip. He knew the sight of the gun might loosen the index finger of a nervous cop. So he grabbed his private investigator's badge and held it out of the car for the police officers to see before he stepped outside.

"Police are trained not to shoot at things with badges because then they are shooting at each other," Caulfield explains. "I just wanted to trigger that safety button in their heads, because I knew they were going to see the gun. I didn't want them to shoot Max."

When he exited the car, he could see nothing but the bright white light of the police strobes and, in the background, a sea of flashing blue lights from other patrol vehicles.

"This was horrible," he remembers thinking. "It was like, 'Fellas, whatever you think, it's not true. Don't make a mistake. If I can just survive the next 90 seconds, I'll see the sun come up. '"

The officer asked: "Who are you?"

"I'm a private investigator."

"Do you have I.D.?"

He handed the officer his wallet.

"I just wanted him to know that we could do whatever he wanted — we could go to a movie for all I cared," Caulfield explains. "Just don't shoot."

The P.I. asked the officer what was going on.

"Someone said you flashed a badge."

At that moment, cops from behind the wall of white light yelled something at the lead officer.

"What?" the officer yelled behind him.

Caulfield says he made out one word: "fell."

The officer ran over to the three-foot retaining wall and looked over it. Caulfield, who was suddenly left completely alone, tried to see what was going on. He saw several police officers, about a dozen of them, looking over the wall. "And I'm still standing there," he says. "This was weird. Remember, I'm still armed."

He edged up to the cop a bit.

"What are you looking at?"

The officer turned to him and said the words Caulfield will never forget: "What you did tonight might have just got a cop killed."

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