Marco police officer says he’s ‘not guilty’ of battery charges

Officer Stephen Mariani will be back to work with full police powers Monday

Stephen Mariani

File photo

Stephen Mariani

Stephen Mariani

File photo

Stephen Mariani

— A Marco Island police officer who was charged with battery, a first-degree misdemeanor, in June pleaded not guilty and will be back in court on the charges in September.

Officer Stephen Mariani, 49 helped break up a drunken brawl outside a bar in February. Mariani was charged with battery June 17 after it was revealed that he struck two of the men he arrested. He also used pepper spray on them while they were handcuffed in the back of his squad car.

Mariani was not arrested. He was put on administrative duties without police powers from February 22 through August 10. Mariani, who earns $50,603 a year, was then suspended August 10 without pay. He will be back to work with full police powers August 25.

Mariani started with the Marco Island Police Department in May 2006 after retiring from a 20-year career as a sergeant with the New York City Police Department.

“I’m working on getting him back on the street where he belongs,” said Police Chief Thom Carr.

When Mariani returns to “the street,” he will remain under a six month probation.

He filed a written plea of not guilty during the July 2 arraignment for the battery charge and will be back in court September 10 for a pretrial hearing.

The hearing will be one day before Mariani turns 50; his birthday is September 11.

Mariani is being represented by a union attorney from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Carr said there are at least 10 written statements from witnesses that were “thoroughly disgusted” with the behavior of the men toward the police officer during the drunken melee.

Mariani’s battery charge dates back to a fight outside the Off the Hook Comedy Club at Capt. Brien’s, at 599 South Collier Boulevard, during the winter.

About 11 p.m., Feb. 16, Mariani responded to the club after an employee learned a group of 24 people with tickets waiting to enter the club had been kicked out of another bar, according to a police report from earlier that night.

“This was the first mistake,” Carr said.

He said the club called a police supervisor’s cell phone directly instead of calling the police department or 911 which would have been heard over the police radios, putting all officers on alert of the potential situation.

The second mistake Carr said was Mariani believing he could handle a situation involving 24 people without back up from other officers at the outset.

Mariani reportedly told the large group that if there was a disturbance at the club, the group would have to leave. About 15 minutes later, after being asked three times to behave, club employees requested Mariani remove the group from the club.

They were requested to board their chartered bus, which most of the group did at the officer’s request, according to reports. At this point, an off-duty Marco Island police officer, Hector Diaz, responded to the scene to assist Mariani.

The two officers then were confronted by four members of the group who got off the bus. According to the Collier County Sheriff’s office the men who started the ruckus have known gang affiliations and are “familiar with the system.”

Three of the young men identified were from East Naples: Adrian Polanco, 20, Christopher Raymond Caprari, 21 and Jason Bocardo, 19. The fourth man Anthony Pedro Blanco, 18, is a Marco Island resident. When Diaz identified himself as an officer and reached into his pocket to get his badge, Caprari swung and punched him in the arm, reports said.

Bocardo then grabbed Diaz by the neck and put him in a choke hold before the officer fell to the ground, reports said.

Mariani attempted to help but was pushed and punched by Blanco. He was able to handcuff Blanco, but was then pushed by Polanco, police said.

Carr said one citizen was severely bitten by one of the four men when assisting the police officers in making an arrest.

Several other Marco Island police units responded and with the assistance of several citizens they were able to handcuff and arrest the four men.

Once in a patrol car one of the men kicked out a side window; one of the men faked an asthma attack and was brought to the hospital, Carr said.

Mistake number three occurred, according to Carr, when Mariani was appointed as the officer to transport the three remaining men to the Naples Jail Center.

“You don’t put him back in the car with three still aggravated, very violent men after he just had a confrontation with him. That’s not good procedure,” he explained.

Carr added that three violent men should not be put in a car together under any circumstance.

“There is nothing against the rules there, but it’s just common sense,” he said.

While being transported to Naples Jail Center, three of the men, who were handcuffed in the back of Mariani’s squad car, were verbally abusive, thrashed about and hit their heads against the vehicle’s interior, Marco Island spokeswoman Lisa Douglass told the Naples Daily News in June.

Carr said Mariani did not make it very far in his route to the jail.

“In an attempt to regain control, the officer stopped the vehicle, got out, and opened the rear door as the subjects attempted to exit,” Douglass said. “He struck two of them. He then used pepper spray to control their violent behavior.”

Carr said the three men were not hurt, but were treated due to the use of pepper spray.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office was called to assist and brought the men to the jail using a paddy wagon.

The next day Mariani reported the incident that occurred in his squad car, which was also caught on tape, Carr said.

An internal investigation was initiated and the case was immediately turned over along with the video to the state attorney’s office, he added.

The pretrial conference is schedule for 10 a.m., Sept. 10, in the Collier County Courthouse.

The police department is currently interviewing lieutenant candidates to fill a vacant position which would serve as an alternate supervisor to assist in a situation such as the one which occurred unsupervised in February, Carr said.

Ryan Mills contributed to this story.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

hourigan82247 writes:

Steve would have been better off just sitting in his car while these drunken thugs do what they want on our island. What a stinken thankless job.... a Marco Island policeman. Word gets out we have policemen that don't put up with drunken thugs....maybe visitors and vacationers will behave a little nicer!!!

smiley writes:

Any lovely human being that jumps a police officer deserves to have the horse feathers beat out of them.

scuba22 writes:

tige and stephen are drunk with authority, typical napoleon complexes

August8 writes:

"All Right",

A police administrator in support of our officers as oppossed to pushing others out front on the explaination, very refreshing. He explains the incident, the officer's mistakes and justifiable actions, but just as importantly he outlines the errors and responsiblities that the department and the city played in the unfortunate delima. Now, rules and procedures should be established to ensure that these things will not occur again. Adding additional officers to the force instead of fire fighters, may also be in order! In any case, It must be gratifying for the rank and file to know that they seem to be supported in carrying out the law and order mission,even on our normally quiet, Marco Island.

Now, if someone could explain the difference in being criminally charged for for a first degree misdemeanor and not being arrested, that might be helpful? Because he did not take a ride in a police cruiser in hand cuffs does not mean he was not arrested? By reading all the information that has been posted in this matter the casual observer would draw the conclusion that the police department never had it's heart in this "investigation" If he should be convicted, hopefully not, what happens then?
In any case it's good to see that the officer is lawyered-up and is having his rights protected.
Good luck to the officer and the department as this goes forward.

JohninMarco writes:

This is unbelievable. The chief just gave any attorney more than enough evidence to sue the pants off the city. Read what he said. The depts personel made 3 MAJOR errors. Whether the officer screwed up or not is on the back burner. The PD admits they screwed up big time. Attorney fees alone to defend this will be big. I bet we will not here about this settlement.

hourigan82247 writes:

JohninMarco don't say anything. We don't want anyone to (A) Hear (B) Here (C) Heer (D)All of the above .... about this.

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