ORLANDO – Eddie Diaz can still vividly describe how unexceptional his shift seemed that fatal night on Feb. 3, 2000, when he and his partner at the Orlando Police Department made a routine traffic stop.
Although Diaz had been trained to handle emergency situations, he wasn’t fully prepared for the devastatingly violent attack directed against him by Emmanuel “Jimmy” Saint Nattis, the man pulled over by Diaz and fellow officer George DeSalvia during that traffic stop. They were unaware that the driver was wanted for armed robbery.
“I was working for the Orlando Police Department,” Diaz said. “I worked the midnight shift. At a traffic stop, while trying to arrest the driver, we had a critical incident that occurred. In the process, I was shot eight times. I was completely paralyzed.”
Before the officers could handcuff the suspect, Saint Nattis drew a pistol and fired at them at point blank range. Eight hollow-point rounds entered Diaz’s skull, back and shoulders. While still conscious but partially paralyzed, he was able to radio for help.
Today, Diaz still walks with a cane, and had to sit down this morning when he appeared in front of camera crews at the Orange County Courthouse, to help his friend Jeff Ashton launch his political campaign for the office of State Attorney. It was Ashton who prosecuted Saint Nattis, who got sentenced to life in prison for the attempted murder of Diaz and for killing DeSalvia.
“As a victim of crime, Jeff Ashton treated me with compassion and kindness,” Diaz said. “At a time when I couldn’t stand up because I was in a wheelchair, Jeff Ashton stood up for me.”
Ashton said he was proud to have Diaz’s support in the Democratic primary against State Attorney Lawson Lamar, and added, “Eddie is one of the true heroes.”
The bullets that penetrated Diaz’s body in 2000 officially ended his law-enforcement career. He retired from the Orlando Police Department with a disability pension, 21 months after he was shot. He was left partially paralyzed, spent six weeks in the hospital, then used a wheelchair. He now uses canes, although it took many grueling hours of rehabilitation and hard work with physical therapists to get there, Diaz said.
Diaz said he still gets tough reminders of the agony he endured when those bullets struck his body, including on cold mornings like this one, when temperatures did not get past the mid-40s, and the wind chill in downtown Orlando made it feel much colder.
“It’s a cold morning, and it reminds me so much of the wounds and the scars so many crime victims have,” he said, adding that he still has a bullet lodged in his shoulder.
But Diaz said he was there to show his strong support for Ashton’s bid for the Democratic party nomination for State Attorney representing Orange and Osceola counties, saying it was Ashton who put his attacker behind bars.
“The assailant was successful prosecuted by Jeff Ashton, and he is now serving two life sentences,” Diaz said. “I got to know Jeff, and he was very supportive of me and my family during this time.”
Diaz launched his own political career in 2002, when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which covers parts of Orlando and Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties. Despite his dramatic story and being hailed as Central Florida’s first Hispanic American to seek election to the U.S. House of Representatives, he lost that year to the Republican incumbent, Rep. Ric Keller.
Today, though, Diaz said he had a lot of faith in Ashton’s ability to win over the voters in the Aug. 14 Florida Democratic primary.
“As a former law enforcement officer, I know how important it is to have a committed state attorney to see the case through,” Diaz said. “Jeff Ashton is that man.”
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