Handcuffed and secured in the back seat of a squad car, three rowdy men were unable to keep their mouths shut, which gave Marco Island Police officer Stephen Mariani no choice but to stop the car, open the back door and punch and pepper spray the three men.
It was an “impossible situation”, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who exonerated Mariani last week of three counts of excessive force, saving the officer from permanently losing his badge.
However, the State Attorney’s Office was not so forgiving when it investigated Mariani of misdemeanor battery last August.
Mariani was ordered to take six months of anger management classes in a criminal plea agreement for the incident that occurred in February. The Marco Island Police Department suspended Mariani without pay for two weeks, assigned him to desk duty for 5½ months and placed him on probation for six months, ending Feb. 22, 2009.
The February 2008 incident was captured in a police car video, which is the only reason this incident even came to light. The video is dark and difficult to see, so read a synopsis of what actually occurred in the back of the car from the Marco News:
The video — stamped with both the time and date — begins at 12:44 a.m.
At the start, the three begin verbally harassing Mariani, threatening to fight him and bouncing around the backseat.
“Who the (expletive) do you think you are, (Collier County Sheriff) Don Hunter?” Blanco asks. “You ain’t (expletive).”
Blanco then repeatedly calls Mariani a “rent-a-cop.”
Mariani appears to be calm and says little, or nothing, audible.
Then less than two minutes after the ride begins and less than a mile away from where he started, Mariani stops the car, exits and opens the back door.
Mariani strikes Polanco in the face at least three times before climbing over him to punch Blanco’s face.
“Shut the (expletive) up,” Mariani says before hitting Blanco.
Mariani closes the door with Polanco kicking and all three screaming at him.
They stop and one prisoner yells, “He’s going to Mace us, chill!” They duck.
“Ready?” Mariani asks.
He discharges pepper spray into the vehicle. Twenty seconds after the first burst, Mariani sprays again.
“Deep breaths,” Mariani repeats. “Deep breaths.”
For the next eight minutes, the three men remain in the car thrashing, yelling obscenities at Mariani and begging for relief. All three repeat that they can’t breathe. Blanco bangs his head over and over against the Plexiglas partition dividing the back seat from the car’s front.
Mariani drives back to the police department parking lot. He opens the back door and hoses the prisoners down with water while they remain seated in the car.
Although it is true that the men were drunk, rowdy, unruly and belligerent, it is also true that they were handcuffed and on their way to jail, so it was hardly “an impossible situation”.
The fact that the State Attorney’s Office criminally charged Mariani with misdemeanor battery shows that he acted no differently than the suspects he was transporting.
The shocking part, however, is not that Mariani used excessive force on the suspects because that happens all too often when the video cameras are not rolling.
The shocking part is that the suspects were given only six months probation even though they were charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence.
Shocking because I was sentenced to one year probation for resisting arrest without violence.
But I guess the Marco Island suspects did not have the audicity to blog about their case.