Prosecutors dropped all charges Thursday against two teenagers who police accused of participating in a beating on Crandon Boulevard — after the main witness did not show up for trial. The April incident roiled the normally tranquil community so intensely that it prompted the Village Council to hold a special meeting to discuss policing.
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for State Attorney Katherine Fernandz Rundle, said the complaining witness, Cristoforo Pignata, did not attend trial despite being noticed.
Key Biscayne police initially charged the two juveniles with felony batteries and asked that they be prosecuted as adults. Later, the State Attorney’s office decided to keep the cases in juvenile court, after reviewing the facts.
The action in court Thursday ends the prosecution.
“The charges against you have been dropped. You are free to go. Have a good day,” said Circuit Court Judge Orlando Prescott to one of the young men, who attended with their parents via Zoom. There was no visible reaction in the courtroom, and messages left for the teens’ attorneys were not returned.
A defense attorney argued that the two males, both then age 17, were acting in self defense after Pignata confronted them for allegedly throwing rocks at his golf cart. In addition to the self-defense arguments, Griffith said it was not clear whether Pignata could specifically identify his alleged attacker.
Police said Pignata was struck in the jaw and required medical attention. A phone message left for Pignata was not returned.
The incident led to hundreds of sometimes-hypercharged posts on social media, especially WhatsApp, including versions in which a skateboard was allegedly used as a weapon. But police quickly said there was no weapon, and other aspects of the case did not match initial reports.
The months that followed saw several large changes in policing. Then-chief Charles Press launched a “flood the streets” strategy to counter an uptick in youth crime, leading ultimately to a large increase in citations. The department later sought and received funding to hire additional officers in the 2022 budget. Press retired in July, capping 17 years of service, replaced this month with Frank Sousa, a former Fort Lauderdale assistant chief.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.