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
The criminal trial began in January 2006. The case fell apart. Not one of the prosecution witnesses provided coherent testimony. Peter admitted multiple times to lying in interviews and sworn depositions. His version of events was virtually worthless; his assertion that the beating occurred at midnight, more than four hours before he was rushed to the hospital, proved especially damaging. The young man's physician estimated Peter probably couldn't have survived more than an hour after the organ-busting attack.
"[Peter] Daniel looked like a smarmy, wood-sucking, weasly little runt on the stand," says Richard Sharpstein, Alvarez's defense attorney, who described Peter as a "punk" in his opening statement. "He was just a punching bag for me," Sharpstein says now.
The jury handed down a not-guilty verdict at the conclusion of a 40-minute lunch break. Alvarez and St. Germain were reinstated late this past year.
Though neither defendant took the stand, eleven officers and other witnesses who had been at the station that night were deposed. The only one who would speak out about the beating was Ofcr. Eladio Parra.
In a statement given to state investigators immediately after the beating, and in subsequent depositions, Parra described Mayor Maroño's involvement; he also noted that Rodriguez, the Jet Ski's owner, was there, which might have inflamed the situation. Though Maroño asked Parra to interrogate the alleged thieves, he refused. Maroño later approached Parra in the bathroom and announced "the kid" had fallen from his chair.
Then, Parra claimed, the mayor indicated a tougher approach might be needed. "The mayor told me: 'Get in there and find out where that Jet Ski is,'" Parra told New Times."And he made a slapping motion like he wanted me to get in there and smack this kid around." That allegation first surfaced in a 2003 sworn statement that Parra's supervisor and union rep, Larry Churchman, gave to state and federal investigators.
(The mayor denies the conversation ever took place. "I never spoke to Parra in the bathroom. I was peeing in the pee stall. I never speak when I'm peeing," he told New Times.)
Parra stayed clear of the station for most of that night, managing multiple calls. When he returned at 4:30 a.m., he found Peter in grave condition. Soon Peter was picked up by a fire rescue unit and transported to Kendall Regional.
Parra and Churchman described these events to investigators from the State Attorney's Office shortly after the night of the beating. The next morning, Parra said his usual hellos to the guys on his way into work. "They were all hanging out in the parking lot outside. Maroño looked at me like he wanted to kill me," Parra recalls, his eyes agog. "Like he wanted to eat me alive. I was worried they were gonna do something to me. But I do my job. I follow the law. What could they do? Boy, was I fuckin' wrong."
The following month a veteran investigator at the State Attorney's Office was reportedly terminated for leaking information about the investigation to Maroño and the police chief.
On February 27, 2005, Parra was working off-duty security outside the Ohio Sports Bar when he had to Taser a violent drunk. Parra allegedly bashed the man on the forehead before he finally went down. Though the arrestee never filed a complaint (Parra contends the man apologized the whole way to the station), Parra and Churchman were fired in March for falsifying official reports and violating procedures.
Parra had to dip into his pension, file for unemployment, and take out loans. At Maroño's behest, the city spent $80,000 on a private attorney to fight the officers' appeals. "I don't have confidence in my city attorney," Maroño says.
Twenty months later, an arbitrator found that the firing had been "predetermined to get even with [Parra] for his prior acts, most likely related to his prior testimony in another case." The arbitrator further implied that Sweetwater PD's conduct "could not be considered anything less than attempted witness intimidation." Parra was reinstated in late 2006. Churchman's arbitration verdict is pending.
"I don't think [St. Germain or Alvarez] beat anyone," Parra said recently over a cup of cold Cuban coffee in his Hummel-crowded kitchen in Kendall. "Maybe they were trying to cover up for someone."
"I'm glad Parra is back," Mayor Maroño says, sitting amid the paramilitary filigree of his office. "He's a good cop."
The feeling is not mutual. "I despise [Maroño]," Parra told the jury during the criminal trial.
Miraculously Mayor Maroño remained outside the scope of the state attorney's investigation into the beating.
Several of the town's officers wonder why. That's not surprising. The mayor has never been popular with the rank and file.
Shortly after being appointed mayor in 2002, Maroño achieved infamy for rehiring disgraced police Chief Ray Toledo as a reserve officer. Maroño even provided him with a take-home car. Toledo had been fired by a previous administration in May 1995 for assaulting and humiliating his officers. Toledo's return kicked up so much dust in the department that Maroño called a special meeting.