By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Peter's cousin, Danny Daniels, leans against a stone countertop. The husky 29-year-old tile setter's eyes are glossy and impassive behind a pair of glasses. The room is packed with the contents of the master bedroom, which the two are in the process of remodeling.
"Let me tell you," Daniels says, shaking his head. "He was a lot happier before this whole thing started."
Peter's father, a cement truck driver; and his mother, a process-server, divorced when he was four years old. His mother got remarried to a Miami-Dade bus instructor. Peter grew up in his grandmother's house with his mother and stepfather. The family ran a trucking company, parking big rigs in the back yard.
Peter dropped out of high school at age sixteen. His stepfather suffered a stroke. His mother declared bankruptcy. He needed to start earning. His mother sold the trucks and put up $50,000 to buy six Jet Skis. Peter intended to save the family by launching a business offering high-speed aquatic tours of celebrity homes on Hibiscus, Palm, and Star islands for $110 per hour. Extreme Jet Ski Tours earned a marginal profit in 2001 and 2002.
By the time Peter was admitted to the hospital in June 2003, the family was not doing well financially. There was a tax lien on the house. The tours, it seems, were just not extreme enough.
Peter and his mom ran a propaganda machine from his room at Kendall Regional. During his two-week stay in summer 2003, Peter held several interviews with newscasters sporting names like Rosh and Rad. Although his story would change over the next three years, his earliest accounts, pieced together from media interviews and civil court depositions, went something like this: On the way to his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend's house, he was silently pursued by a Sweetwater cop no lights, no sirens. Peter got spooked and led Ofcr. Allen St. Germain on a high-speed chase through the back streets of Sweetwater. After running stop signs, jumping parking pylons, and sliding over multiple lanes of traffic, Peter lost St. Germain. He then drove to his girlfriend's house, got dumped, and went home.
An hour later, St. Germain knocked on Peter's door and arrested him for fleeing and eluding. At the police station, around midnight, four cops allegedly pulled Peter from his cell and pointed to a poster depicting a recently stolen Jet Ski. They demanded to know what Peter had done with it. The boy pleaded innocent.
One of the officers, Sgt. George Alvarez, threw a punch, Peter later testified. The boy claimed he fell to the concrete and pulled himself into a fetal position. The officers including, he then said, 60-year-old Catalino Rodriguez, the Jet Ski's owner kicked, punched, and stomped Peter's 135-pound frame in the interest of recovering the watercraft. "They just kept screaming at me: 'Tell me where the Jet Ski is,'" Peter claimed in court two years later. "'Tell me where the Jet Ski is and we'll stop.'"
Peter Daniel told the media that Rodriguez threatened, between strikes, to cut him into tiny pieces and feed him to alligators; Alvarez and St. Germain, he claimed, took turns hoisting him up by the back of his shirt and pummeling him like a side of beef.
Peter squeaked out the name of his best friend, Danny Izquierdo, to appease his tormentors. The officers cuffed Peter and tossed him into the mayor's dark green Ford Excursion. They drove, in the dead of night, to Izquierdo's home, smacking him all the way, Peter told reporters.
After manhandling a defiant Izquierdo, the cops and the mayor dragged the pair back to the station. The cops punched Peter one last time for good measure, the boy, his mother, and Izquierdo later alleged. Straining to breathe and begging for help, Peter scrawled a statement accusing Izquierdo of stealing the Jet Ski. A furious Izquierdo denied the charge. The two were thrown into adjacent cells. Izquierdo refused to confess and was released.
At 2:30 a.m., Izquierdo burst into the little waiting room and berated Peter's hysterical mother for having "a piece of shit" for a son. She had been waiting up all night, tormented by screams she later attributed to her son. Two hours later, St. Germain called fire rescue to the scene. Peter couldn't stand up. He was rushed to Kendall Regional, where he underwent surgery. Peter's mother later testified her son woke up with the names of the offending officers on his lips: Alvarez and St. Germain.
The story would change.
A month after the beating, Mayor Moroño demoted Jesse Menocal, Sweetwater's police chief of nearly nine years, to supervisor on the graveyard shift. The four officers Peter had named while at the hospital were suspended without pay. Eleven months later, in June 2004, Peter changed his mind about the number of attackers. Two of the officers, including Rodriguez, were dropped from the investigation and returned to regular duty.
Sergeant Alvarez and Officer St. Germain were arrested, charged with brutalizing Peter, and placed on suspension without pay. St. Germain faced up to a decade in prison; Alvarez, 25 years.
In October 2005, 30 days before a civil trial was set to begin, Peter received a $2 million insurance settlement from the Florida League of Cities, plus $20,000 from Sweetwater coffers. Izquierdo later received $100,000.