Four men accused of attacking a gay couple after this year's Miami Beach Pride now face hate-crimes charges.
The four were initially charged with aggravated battery in the attack on Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov, but Miami-Dade County prosecutors upgraded the charges to hate crimes Thursday, The Washington Post reports. All four have pleaded not guilty; they could face up to 30 years in prison each if convicted.
After the Pride parade in April, Chalarca and Logunov were holding hands while in line for a public bathroom along Ocean Drive. They accidentally bumped into Juan Carlos Lopez, and then he, with three others, began to attack them, according to Miami Beach police.
Surveillance video shows Lopez, 21, along with Luis M. Alonso Piovet, 20; Adonis Diaz, 21; and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa, 21, beating the couple while shouting a Spanish gay slur. Police say the footage shows the group punching Chalarca and Logunov in the face until they fell to the ground. Logunov even lost consciousness. (The suspects are pictured above, from left: Lopez, Diaz, Romo-Figueroa, and Alonso-Piovet.)
The day after the attack, police released the footage and asked the public to help identify the assailants. A day later, the four turned themselves in, accompanied by their attorney, Dennis Gonzalez.
After previously charging the four with aggravated battery, Miami-Dade County prosecutors upgraded the charges to a hate crime on Thursday, a move praised by Miami Beach Major of Police Paul Acosta. The accused pleaded not guilty.
— Paul Acosta (@PaulAcostaMBPD) May 10, 2018
Despite the fact that Chalarca and Logunov were publicly displaying affection and dressed for a Pride parade, Gonzalez maintains his clients did not know the two were gay. He also says the video was taken out of context.
“All four of my clients condemn acts of violence toward anyone whether it’s motivated by hate toward the gay community, toward nationality or anything of that nature,” Gonzalez told the Post. “They come out and condemn that. We don’t believe there was any type of animus toward the gay community.”
Chalarca and Logunov were not the only ones attacked, Helmut Muller Estrada was injured when trying to stop what he called an unprovoked assault, reports the Miami Herald. “They almost killed this guy, literally,” he said.
Muller Estrada yelled at the assailants to stop, but instead, they knocked him down, and he hit his head so hard on the concrete that he needed four stitches and left a pool of blood on the ground.
“Everything happened so quick,” Muller Estrada told the Herald. “I was so angry and I just wanted to defend these guys regardless of their sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter.”
Recognizing his act of heroism, the city of Miami Beach presented Muller Estrada with a medallion. “Today we have a resident of our city who was a Good Samaritan and who showed true acts of bravery and heroism that day,” City Commissioner Michael Góngora said during the ceremony, “This is somebody that saw two individuals being attacked and felt the need to step up and do the right thing, and in doing so, he was hurt himself.”
Both Chalarca and Logunov were in attendance. Afterward, Chalarca told the Herald he believes Muller Estrada saved his life.