A Marco Island police officer who helped break up a drunken melee outside a bar in February was charged with battery Tuesday after it was revealed that he struck two of the men he arrested and used pepper spray on them while they were handcuffed in the back of his squad car.
A State Attorney’s Office investigator served a summons to Officer Stephen Mariani on Tuesday, charging him with battery, a first-degree misdemeanor. He wasn’t arrested.
The charge dates back to a fight outside the Off the Hook Comedy Club at Capt. Brien’s, at 599 S. Collier Blvd., during the winter, according to the state attorney’s office.
About 11 p.m. on Feb. 16, Mariani responded to the club at the request of an employee who learned that a group of 24 people with tickets waiting to enter the club had been kicked out of another bar, according to an arrest report from that night.
Mariani told the group that if there was a disturbance, the group would be ejected from the club.
About 15 minutes later, after being asked three times to behave, the members of the group were asked to leave the club and board their chartered bus, reports said. At that time, an off-duty officer, Hector Diaz, responded to the scene to assist Mariani.
Most of the group boarded the bus at the officer’s request.
The two officers then were confronted by four members of the group, identified as Adrian Polanco, 20, of 3625 Poinsettia Ave., No. 1, East Naples; Christopher Raymond Caprari, 21, of 236 Pine Valley Circle, East Naples; Jason Bocardo, 19, of 2584 Ponce De Leon Drive, East Naples; and Anthony Pedro Blanco, 18, of 4613 Lombardy Lane, Marco Island, police reported in February.
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. At that point several other Marco Island police units, and with the assistance of several citizens, were able to handcuff and arrest the four men.
While being transported from the Marco Island Police Department to the 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 said.
“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.”
The next day Mariani reported the encounter in his squad car, which was caught on tape, Douglass said.
“I think what is good ... is that happened on the 16th (of February). On the 17th he came in and said, ‘I didn’t handle myself very well,’ ” Douglass said. “That’s what prompted our administrative review and immediately we turned it over to the state attorney’s office.”
A review of the encounter resulted in Mariani being placed on an administrative suspension, Douglass reported.
Mariani, who earns $50,603 a year, 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.
His arraignment is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on July 2 in Collier County court.
“There is a fine line between excessive force and maintaining control,” Douglass said.