Miami-Dade State Atty. Says Gay Bashing Case A Priority: Delays Due To COVID

Two years after a gay couple was allegedly assaulted by a group of four men at Miami Beach Pride, they were finally going to get their day in court. Then, COVID-19 happened.

There’s no new trial date set, and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle expressed her frustration of the drawn-out case during a SAVE town hall Thursday.

“Honestly, this is such a priority for us,” she said during the state attorney candidate virtual town hall. “I know it’s very frustrating because it has taken a long time.”

The couple, Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov, were allegedly called gay slurs in Spanish as they were leaving a public restroom in April 2018. They were then attacked, leaving them with cuts and bruises and Chalarca with an eye injury. Four men — Juan C. Lopez, Luis M. Alonso Piovet, Adonis Diaz and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa — were caught on video and they surrendered themselves to the Miami Beach Police Department through an attorney.

They were charged with three counts of aggravated battery, as a third person attempted to help the couple and was injured, and a hate crime enhancement was added to their charges.

Originally, the four defendants were represented by the same lawyer. Each then sought their own legal counsel, drawing out the case further and complicating the case with more moving parts.

“If those defense attorneys don’t set it down and don’t move and the judges don’t prod them to do it, it does languish a bit,” the state attorney said.

The case kept getting postponed until it was finally scheduled to go to trial on May 5. That date was then scratched due to COVID-19 and a new date has not been set.

“We had everything sort of on track, we had the case set to go to trial,” Fernandez Rundle said. “And then you know what happened: COVID. COVID has put the entire criminal justice system on hold. So we’re at a huge pause.”

Fernandez Rundle continued: “We anticipated this to be a jury trial, so I’m not going to sugarcoat this: I don’t know when we’re going to get jury trials back. That’s the big question mark that all of us are talking about.”

Fernandez Rundle said that while courts will start reopening on July 6, jury trials will be one of the last to come back. However, she happily announced that during conversations with the Florida Supreme Court, she was told that Miami-Dade County would be the pilot county for jury trials.

“It is a priority case for us and I hope you know that and believe that,” Fernandez Rundle said. “I’m not trying to make excuses, this is just the world that we live in. It’s been complicated.”

Originally published in South Florida Gay News.

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