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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Investigation released in fight involving Hernando detectives


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BROOKSVILLE - An internal investigation against two Hernando County detectives, accused of beating a man outside of a Spring Hill bar in May, found their conduct unbecoming and questioned their truthfulness.

The State Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against Detectives Anthony Mazza and Anthony Scarpati last month, but both men submitted their resignation letters last Friday. They had been on paid administrative leave since June 6.

An internal investigation report was released by the sheriff's office on Thursday.

Bryan Silverstone, 28, of Spring Hill, said several men, including Scarpati and Mazza, beat him up in the parking lot of Jersey's Hometown Tavern, 4598 Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

Silverstone managed to drive away and alerted a sheriff's deputy. Law enforcement noted in their reports he was swollen, covered in blood and had contusions on the back of his head.

Silverstone said the confrontation started at the Hilltop Lounge in Brooksville, when Mazza and Scarpati told him he couldn't be around them, and had a bouncer take him to another area of the bar.

Silverstone left for Jersey's, where Mazza, Scarpati and Scarpati's son showed up a short time later. The man said Mazza pushed him up against a wall in the bar and then tackled him outside in the parking lot. Silverstone said he sprayed Mazza in the face with mace to defend himself, and he was kicked and punched by Mazza, the Scarpatis and bar owner Evans Pappas.

The internal investigation questioned Silverstone, the detectives, bar staff and other witnesses.

Investigators determined there were multiple versions of what happened outside of Jersey's, but that several witnesses, including Pappas, said they saw an "unknown Hispanic male" punch Silverstone in the face. Other accounts said Silverstone was unprovoked when he sprayed Mazza and Scarpati with pepper spray.

Several independent witnesses said Pappas advised the witnesses to give consistent stories to law enforcement to implicate the "unknown Hispanic male," and to cover up the detectives' involvement.

The detectives deny ever touching Silverstone.

The investigation found Silverstone believed Mazza was dating his ex-girlfriend, and sent him harassing Facebook messages. The woman later filed a restraining order against Silverstone.

The internal investigation sustained the allegations of conduct unbecoming and untruthfulness.

"At no time did Mazza or Scarpati indicate they attempted to contact 911 pertaining to the incident, though numerous persons were pepper sprayed and one subject, Silverstone, had been beaten and fled the area in his vehicle," the report reads. "During the course of elaborate interviews, great attempts were made to explain how they were not involved but the fact remains that Silverstone left Jersey's with various injuries."

An allegation of "conformance to laws" was found unsustained against Scarpati, since investigators could not determine if Scarpati acted as a "look out" during the brawl, or did not intervene in the fight.

Investigation findings also show Silverstone's DNA was found on a shirt that Mazza wore on the night of the incident. A forensic technician attempted to collect Mazza's shirt that night, according to the investigation, but the detective refused. Mazza later said he would have handed over the shirt at the time if asked to do so.

In a prepared statement sent to reporters, Sheriff Al Nienhuis responded to the investigation, saying,"Dealing with an allegation of wrongdoing by an agency member is one of the most difficult issues an administrator must deal with.

"Throughout the investigation, we must balance our responsibility to the public for maintaining the integrity of the organization with our responsibility to the employee for protecting them from false accusations. These recent investigations are no exception. Although unpleasant for everyone involved, I believe they were thorough and had an acceptable outcome for the employees involved, as well as for the public and for the organization."

(352) 544-5283

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