Marco officer to face state panel after beating suspects on video

Stephen Mariani

File photo

Stephen Mariani

Marco Police Arrest Video

Reaction to Police Video

A Marco Island police officer begins formal disciplinary proceedings Tuesday afternoon that could lead to the end of his career as a law enforcement officer in Florida.

Officer Stephen Mariani faces three counts of excessive use of force before a review panel of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, stemming from his battery of three suspects in the back of his police car in February.

Mariani, 50, struck and pepper sprayed the handcuffed suspects while driving to the Collier County jail, following a drunken brawl outside a Marco Island comedy club. The incident was caught on Mariani’s in-car video.

Mariani was ordered to take six months of anger management classes in September as part of a criminal plea agreement. The Marco Island Police Department suspended Mariani without pay for two weeks, assigned him to desk duty for 51⁄2 months and placed him on probation for six months, ending this February. He returned to active duty Aug. 22.

FDLE review is required in cases like Mariani’s. Tuesday, that review begins when Mariani faces a jury of his police officer peers at FDLE headquarters in Tallahassee.

The panel, known as the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, functions like a bar association for police officers, according to Jim Sewell, a retired FDLE assistant and deputy commissioner.

“For cops, it’s the same kind of licensing board as doctors have and lawyers have,” Sewell said.

At today’s hearing, the panel has a few options. It can do nothing, formally agree with the discipline taken by the Marco police department, suggest further discipline or find probable cause that Mariani violated FDLE standards.

If the panel finds probable cause, a subsequent hearing could result in the loss of Mariani’s law enforcement certification, meaning he could not work as a police officer in Florida.

Marco Island Police Chief Thom Carr could not be reached for comment Monday. Police Capt. Dave Baer said Carr was en route to Tallahassee with Mariani.

Carr has said he expected the panel would find probable cause and review the case further, but hoped ultimately the FDLE would agree with the punishment he gave Mariani.

Baer said there have been no complaints against Mariani since he returned to active duty.

According to FDLE statistics, nearly three-quarters of the 120 cases against law enforcement officers that have come before the panel this year have resulted in findings of probable cause. Of those 120 cases, five were for excessive use of force.

In the past year when the FDLE took additional disciplinary action, it resulted in the offending officer having his certification revoked or voluntarily relinquishing it more than 60 percent of the time.

But Sewell said the FDLE usually concurs with the discipline taken by an agency against one of its officers.

“Very rarely will you see the commission take one stand and the agency another,” Sewell said.

Meanwhile, comments made when Mariani’s in-car video was published are stirring as much controversy as the incident itself.

After seeing the video, Marco Island City Council Vice Chairman Frank Recker, who is a dental malpractice and health care law attorney, called the three suspects in the back of Mariani’s police car, “out of control baboons” and thanked Mariani for his actions. Recker also considered drafting a letter to urge council support for Mariani in advance of today’s FDLE hearing.

“I think they’re extremely lucky to leave Marco breathing,” Recker said of the three suspects, who were involved in a fight with Mariani and other Marco police officers prior to their arrest. “I think the cop’s only mistake was not using enough Mace.”

Recker’s words caught the notice of prominent local defense attorney Jerry Berry of Berry, Day, McFee & Martin.

Berry believes Recker’s comments were so reckless, he should no longer be a councilman.

“Councilman Recker should be, either by the voters or by impeachment, removed from office,” Berry said. “It’s amazing that an elected official, who is an attorney, would make public statements encouraging police officers to abuse their authority, encouraging officers to beat and pepper spray handcuffed arrestees, and to say that if he were the officer he would have killed the teenagers before they left Marco.”

Berry added that Recker’s comments opened the city to a larger liability should a lawsuit be brought against the police department and could have damaged Marco’s reputation nationally.

Told Berry’s reaction, Recker said it wasn’t surprising, given Berry’s choice of career.

“My response is Jerry Berry is a good defense attorney and I would expect him to say that,” Recker said. “I am an elected official concerned with the health, safety and welfare of Marco Island. So we each have our own perspective.”

Recker added his concern with Marco’s citizens led him to make his initial statements.

“Bottom line is we’re all human and I for one am very passionate about the safety and welfare of the people of Marco, which resulted in some strong comments,” he said.

Recker continues to support Mariani, and hopes the FDLE agrees with the city’s disciplinary actions.

Mariani and Recker both have an ally in City Councilman Rob Popoff. Popoff called the three suspects in Mariani’s car “animals” and said the officer’s actions were “a little over the top,” but Mariani also behaved “as a professional.” Popoff added he wished he’d been there from the beginning of the fight.

“If (the three suspects) ever plan a trip to Marco again, I’d like them to call me first so I’ll know where they are,” Popoff said.

Popoff said Recker originally made “a poor choice of words,” but called his comments “dead on.”

“I support Frank 100 percent on this,” Popoff said.

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

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Comments » 11

MarcoFacts writes:

What this article neglects to tell the reader is that these suspects were wild and out of control. One tries to kick an officer, who was being held down on the ground in the face. Thankfully a bystander jumped on the assailant. The fact is these punks came to Marco Island and started a fight they weren't men enough to finish and then they run to their moms, dads and attorneys. Total cowards and worthless punks! Marianni may have shown more restraint but that’s easy to say when you were not involved in the fight for your safety and that of others! Good for you Recker and Popoff! Protect our paradise and stand by our professional police force.

MarcoBound writes:

Yo Dog - Yo Bro - I didn't do nuttin'.
How unfortunate these 3 upstanding citizens be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They clearly realized the camera was on - and their acting was impeccable. I was waiting for someone to reach into the back of the squad with a golden statue in hand. Don't get me wrong - they were cuffed in the back of the squad - there's no reason to hit or pepper-spray them at that point. Clearly their comments aggravated the officer - it's difficult to restrain yourself in that situation but you must.

It's also clear these punks have no respect for the staff or audience at the comedy club, authority, law enforcement or probably anything or anyone else. They do what they want and act how they want - and it's unfortunate the rest of us have to put up with punks like this - who grow up to become bigger and better thugs in our community. As 'politically incorrect' as it sounds, some people in this life just deserve to be put in their place.

August8 writes:

Like Never Before!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Marco Citizens should be extremely pleased and proud of the community leadership and professionalism for the manner that this matter was handled.
The Police Chief as well as politicians conducted a thourgh investigation, detemined culpability, distributed fair discipline and initiated corrective action. Now, they are supporting their employee in a very admiral fashion.As much as the media adores these types of cases, they have been stone walled by the direct and timely actions of these officials.These types of decisions, in this writer's opinion, mitgate to a very high degree the normal arguing and nastyness that has so often been a part of the City's History.

This case elevates these reputations and City Government far more than they might know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leroy writes:

I commend the councilors and the police chief for standing behind the officer. These guys came to Marco to start trouble and when it got out of control they cried like babies. They deserved what they got and like Popoff said, I wish I was there when it happened. PUNKS!!!!!!!

multi_million_heir writes:

why dont all you posers just stop oncoming traffic at the bridge and dole out what you feel is justice to those you dont like? you're probably needin' a nitro tab just salivating over it. the officer owned up to his mistake. calling out people from an elected position after the fact gives the island a black eye. put that in your needless lawsuit pipe and smoke it.

Montel writes:

Hey islandman4now, a.k.a Ed Foster. If anyone knows about needless lawsuits it's you!

The officer was in a major altercation with three individuals who tried to do great bodily harm to himself and others. He finally got them handcuffed with the assistance of bystanders and tried to piecefully transport them to the jail. They acted like animals, probably on PCP and deserved what they got!! At least Carr, Recker and Popoff have the guts to stick up for him.

But what would you know about guts Ed? You lost all the battles you started, wasted a lot of innocent taxpayers money and ran and threw your attorney Gold and faithful pawn Enman under the bus on your way off the Island.

multi_million_heir writes:

sorry monty, get your meds checked. you are a paranoid delusional fool if you think im ed foster. for our elected officials to call people out like thugs is an embarassment to any normal citizen. and supporting that kind of thug behavior by a bunch of wannabe posers shows your mentality. the police officers did their job. thats what they are paid to do! they arrested three little kids. i have no problem with that. its the comments by the posers that reek.

August8 writes:

Why don't you guy's just call each other on the phone and argue over this instead of exposing all of us to your rage??????????????

Montel writes:

I apologize August; you are right but I would never talk to Foster.

ejburger writes:

Maybe the officer overreacted when the criminals were handcuffed but the hooligans deserved the pepper spray. In my day if you attacked a police officer there was hell to pay. I think they got off easy. The real problem is that now they have a defense attorney who will probably make sure they're rewarded for their bad behavior.

happy6 writes:

nail on the head ej!

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