By Steve Plunkett
Neighbors of former Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella who answered police questions the night of his arrest and then answered questions for an Ocean Ridge police internal investigation are finding they will spend more time answering still more questions.
Marc Shiner, Lucibella’s defense attorney, scheduled 17 depositions in late February and early March of witnesses listed in officers Richard Ermeri and Nubia Plesnik’s initial reports of the Oct. 22 shooting incident at Lucibella’s oceanfront home.
Besides neighbors and passersby, those deposed included the Boynton Beach Fire Rescue team that was summoned to the scene, Boynton Beach’s fire chief and the MD Now doctors who treated Ermeri and Plesnik after Lucibella’s arrest.
Lucibella, 63, is charged with felony battery on a police officer and resisting the officer with violence. He also faces a misdemeanor count of using a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. He has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutor Danielle Grundt issued subpoenas to the same group of witnesses plus Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins and a third MD Now physician to be at the courthouse in West Palm Beach for the jury trial, which is set to start at 9:30 a.m. April 10.
Circuit Judge Charles Burton has blocked off four weeks for the proceedings, the subpoenas say.
“Failure to appear will subject you to contempt of court. This subpoena is binding day-to-day and week-to-week until the case is closed,” Grundt says in the subpoenas.
Jerry Lower, publisher of The Coastal Star, went to Lucibella’s house that night to photograph the incident for the newspaper and is fighting subpoenas for a defense deposition and the trial.
Lower’s motion to quash the subpoenas says that under state law, case law and the First Amendment, a professional journalist has a qualified privilege “to not be a witness or disclose information the journalist has obtained while gathering news.”
Town police went to Lucibella’s home after neighbors reported hearing gunfire and said they found the vice mayor and one of their supervisors, Lt. Steven Wohlfiel, “obviously intoxicated” on the patio.
They confiscated a .40-caliber Glock handgun and found five spent shell casings on the patio. Police also took a semiautomatic pistol they said Lucibella had in his back pocket.
According to their reports, when Ermeri and Plesnik tried to block Lucibella from entering his house, he resisted. They wrestled him to the paver-covered ground and handcuffed him. Lucibella needed treatment for facial injuries, they said, though he declined help from the Boynton Beach paramedics at the scene.
Lucibella claims he is the victim of police overreaction. Through Shiner, he has said that the officers should not have entered his backyard and that they used excessive force, cracking three of his ribs.
Lucibella resigned his posts as vice mayor and town commissioner Dec. 7, the same day the State Attorney’s Office filed formal charges against him.