Marco Police Arrest Video
Reaction to Police Video
TALLAHASSEE — Saying he was placed in an “impossible situation,” a state disciplinary panel on Tuesday exonerated a Marco Island police officer who faced charges of battery and excessive force surrounding a February on-duty scuffle at an island comedy club.
Accompanied by his police chief, Stephen Mariani stood silently as the panel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reviewed the Feb. 16th incident that brought criminal charges and department sanctions against the 22-year veteran.
“I can appreciate this officer being placed in an impossible situation,” said commission Chairman Keith Durkin.
The FDLE Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission then proceeded to reject a staff recommendation to hold further formal proceedings, which could have forced Mariani to turn in his badge.
But he did not get off scot-free. Panelists agreed to issue a letter of guidance, a probation-like directive that if successfully followed would mean a slate clean for the police officer who joined the force in 2006 after 20 years as a New York City cop.
Mariani, 50, declined comment after the verdict but Marco Island Police Chief Thom Carr said the panel’s action was good news that hopefully will be the final chapter of an incident marred by multiple errors.
“With the fact that he never denied doing this but lost control for the first time in 22 1/2 years, we were looking for a letter of guidance from FDLE,” Carr said after the hearing. “Fortunately, we got it.”
Mariani was suspended for two weeks without pay and placed on six months probation for an February 2008 altercation he had with three suspects who were part of a boisterous busload of visitors at a Marco Island comedy club.
While transporting the verbally abusive suspects to Collier County’s jail, a video camera installed inside the police cruiser showed Mariani stopping the vehicle, opening the driver’s side rear door and punching two of the suspects. When one suspect tried to escape, Mariani pepper sprayed all three.
Carr, who testified on Mariani’s behalf, said the officer erred when he lost control with the belligerent suspects but also said several mistakes were made during and after the arrest that likely led to the altercation and the charges.
Mariani should not have been dispatched alone to deal with a busload of rowdy partygoers from Miami without proper backup. And after he and an off-duty officer scuffled with some of the revelers, Mariani should not have been ordered to drive the suspects to headquarters after the row.
“The whole thing was bad from the get-go,” Carr said of the events surrounding the February arrest. “There were several errors made. Some of that has been corrected, people have been disciplined, I don’t see that ever happening again.”
The panel could have accepted the staff recommendation and ordered a formal hearing, a legal proceeding in which witnesses would be called and a ruling is made. Mariani could have lost his position as a law enforcement officer.
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, according to FDLE statistics. Of the 106 disciplinary actions taken by the FDLE this year, the officer had their certification revoked or voluntarily relinquished it in more than 60 percent.
But commissioners appeared to agree with Matt Ward, a Police Benevolent Association attorney who represented Mariani at the hearing. With the suspects jailed for their part in the brawl, Mariani already disciplined for his role, and changes made to prevent a similar incident from happening, Webb said the system of internal review worked.
“At the end of the day, this was a tough night for everyone involved,” Webb said.
Contact Michael Peltier at firstname.lastname@example.org