Four men accused of assaulting a gay couple after Miami Beach Pride in 2018 were celebrated this week at an annual Champions of Equality Gala for SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBTQ group, and the group’s executive director Tony Lima told attendees the men were “‘wrongly accused,’ not only of a hate crime, but the attack itself, despite it being caught on video,” according to South Florida Gay News.
Terry Gonzalez-Chaveza, a spokesperson for the Office of the State Attorney, disputed Lima’s claim: “We are aggressively pursuing the prosecution of the case. We believe we have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against them: Aggravated Battery with Prejudice/Weapon or Bodily Harm, Aggravated Battery, Assault with Prejudice/or on Religious Institution Grounds, and Assault. If that were not the case, the charges would have been dropped in the past.”
As we reported in June 2018, hate crime charges were added to aggravated battery charges following the assault, and mean the men would face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov, the couple, and Helmut Muller Estrada, a good samaritan who stepped in, were violently attacked by the four men. The victims said they were targeted because of their sexual orientation. They said their attackers used gay slurs while assaulting them.
The suspects, who attended the SAVE gala, are (clockwise, from top left) Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa, 21, Luis Alonso-Piovet, 20, Juan C. Lopez, 21, and Adonis Diaz, 21. The perps turned themselves in after being seen in video and surveillance photos widely shared on social media.
Lopez’s lawyer said there was “clearly” not gay animus because Lopez’s father is gay: “These kids grew up with their friend Juan – their father has been in a gay relationship the last 15 years. These kids have participated in that – that’s at issue.”
The Miami Herald reports: “Lima apologized via a video statement on Facebook posted Friday night. He said Lopez’s parents contacted him about six weeks ago to inquire about volunteering with the group. Each man volunteered about two to three hours each, and helped with data entry and some preparations. The men and Lopez’s parents bought tickets, he said. Lima said he welcomed the group during the program but did not recall claiming the men had been wrongfully accused. ‘If that’s what I said in haste, I apologize for that,’ he said. ‘I am no one to pass judgment on the case.’ He said he acted alone and should have consulted with the board of directors.”
SAVE apologized in a Facebook post: “We want to extend our deepest apologies first, to the victims, and equally, to the community for any insensitivity that may have been conveyed on our behalf by their attendance and mention at the gala. We are currently investigating this matter more thoroughly to determine the facts around the attendance and recognition of these individuals and will be providing an update to our supporters and the community at large as soon as we gather all the appropriate information.”