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Suspects in Florida anti-gay assault now face hate crime enhancement

Prosecutors in Florida on Thursday added hate-crime enhancement charges against four men previously arrested for attacking a couple during last month’s annual gay pride parade in South Beach, near Miami.

The suspects initially were charged with aggravated battery, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. But now if convicted of aggravated battery with prejudice, a first-degree felony, they face up to 30 years.

The Florida assault – like one last August during violence in Charlottesville, Virginia – was captured on video, ultimately leading to the identification and arrests of the attackers.

The incident occurred, police said, after one of the victims accidentally bumped into Juan Carlos Lopez near a bathroom area near Ocean Drive and Sixth Street in South Beach.

That led Lopez, 21, and his companions, Luis M. Alonso Piovet, 20; Adonis Diaz, 21; and Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa, 21, to call the gay couple “maricones,” an anti-gay slur in Spanish, the Miami Herald reported, quoting police.

Surveillance video showed the assailants then repeatedly punched the two gay men in their faces, causing cuts and bruises. One of the victims was briefly knocked out from the attack, police said.

A witness, identified by police as Helmut Muller, chased the fleeing attackers, but they paused only briefly to assault him, too. Muller, who later was honored by Miami Beach officials for his heroism, received medical attention for a head laceration.

A day after the attack, police released surveillance video, asking for the public's assistance in identifying the attackers. The four men, accompanied by a lawyer, surrendered the following day, the Miami newspaper reported.

Photo credit: Miami-Dade Corrections

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