JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An eyebrow-raising picture has a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office patrolman under scrutiny this week after he was photographed in uniform embracing a woman in a provocative way.
The picture was snapped just outside of a Denny's restaurant on Blanding Boulevard Monday evening and made the rounds on social media on Tuesday.
Neshia Thomas, who said she took the photo, said it was like catching teenagers at lookout point with fogged up windows. But she said this officer, identified by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office as Officer Irving Diaz, wasn't trying to hide his PDA.
JSO has confirmed that the woman Diaz was with is his girlfriend.
The photo was sent to News4Jax dozens of times by concerned viewers asking Channel 4 to investigate the picture.
"It's one thing to enjoy time with your girlfriend, and it's another to do it on the city's dime, you know?" said Jacksonville resident Emily Wellstead. "When you're wearing a uniform and an officer of the law, you're kind of expected to conduct yourself in a certain manner because you are a role model in the community."
Thomas, who said she took the photo just before 6 p.m. Monday, said Diaz was more than just hot and heavy with his girlfriend.
"I mean kissing, smooching, like French kissing. Not a simple kiss on the lips," Thomas said. "All they needed was a bed to fall out of the sky. It was just ridiculous.
"You were on top of the squad car like you were above the law, like you made the law, like you own the law," Thomas said. "You are a part of the law. Whether you are off duty or on duty. You have a conduct to uphold to the public."
Jacksonville resident Angelo Collins agreed that the officer's conduct appeared inappropriate.
"It looks pretty bad, looks like that officer is groping that girl," Collins said. "It's pretty unprofessional. You wouldn't expect an officer to be doing that in uniform, let alone on a police car."
But many commenters on WJXT's Facebook page said this was a private moment that should never have been captured and made public.
Lauri-Ellen Smith, special assistant to the sheriff, responded with this statement after the photo was sent to JSO: "We are looking into the matter to determine if any policies or procedures were violated."
JSO has not confirmed if Diaz was "off the clock" at the time the photo was taken, but a law enforcement source told Channel 4 that it's common policy that officers are not supposed to be engaging in any type of public sexual displays of affection.
If Diaz were to face disciplinary action, he could possibly be suspended with or without pay or receive a written reprimand, but Channel 4's law enforcement source does not believe Diaz will lose his job over the incident.