It was dusk at Miami Beach, the annual gay pride parade was over, and Rene Chalarca and his boyfriend, Dmitry Logunov, shared a hug.
They were waiting in line for a public bathroom along Ocean Drive. As they left, they said, they were holding hands when Logunov accidentally bumped into a stranger, 21-year-old Juan Carlos Lopez.
And that’s when police say the attack began.
Lopez and three other men who were with him are accused of beating Chalarca and Logunov while yelling a gay slur at them in Spanish. The April 8 beating was captured on surveillance video, which police say shows Lopez and the others repeatedly punching Chalarca and Logunov in the face so hard they fell to the ground. Logunov, in fact, had been temporarily knocked unconscious, according to Miami Beach police.
The men had previously been charged with aggravated battery, but on Thursday Miami-Dade County prosecutors upgraded the charges to a hate crime. Lopez and his co-defendants — Luis M. Alonso Piovet, 20; Adonis Diaz, 21; and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa, 21 — could all face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. They have all pleaded not guilty.
“These charges send a strong message that #HateCrime will NEVER be tolerated,” Miami Beach Major of Police Paul Acosta said on Twitter.
The day after the incident, Miami Beach police released surveillance video of the attack, asking the public’s help in finding the men. The four turned themselves in the following day, accompanied by an attorney.
The attorney, Dennis Gonzalez, strongly disputed that his clients attacked Chalarca and Logunov based on their sexual orientation, saying his clients didn’t even know they were gay. The surveillance video, he said, has been taken out of context. He also said his clients did not use gay slurs.
“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,” he told The Washington 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 injured in the attack that day. Another man, Helmut Muller Estrada, was beaten when he tried to stop the attack, police said.
“They almost killed this guy, literally,” Muller Estrada said.
Muller Estrada yelled for them to stop, attempting to break up the fight. They did stop, he said — and then they knocked him out, too. Muller Estrada hit his head so hard on the concrete that his injury required four stitches, the Herald reported. The gash 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.”
Gonzalez said he believes that the full story will come together during discovery, and that he could not comment on the reasons for the fight or why Muller Estrada was also beaten.
On April 25, the city of Miami Beach presented Muller Estrada with a medallion reserved for recognizing acts of heroism.
“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 a ceremony, which both Chalarca and Logunov attended. “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.”
After the ceremony, Chalarca told the Herald he believed Muller Estrada saved his life. And Logunov said he believed without a doubt that they were attacked because of their sexual orientation — because of “our happiness, our outfits, our affection for each other.”
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