Former Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella sits before a potential pool of jurors in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. His trial on two felony counts began Jan. 28, and Judge Daliah Weiss told the jury that she expected the trial to last a week. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Steve Plunkett
The trial of onetime Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella has begun — two years and two months after town police arrested him in a backyard fracas.
Lucibella, 65, is charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence, both felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.
In opening statements on Jan. 28, Assistant State Attorney Danielle Grundt asked the six-person jury to keep in mind who was on trial.
“The name of the case is State of Florida vs. Richard Lucibella, not State of Florida vs. the police officers, not State of Florida vs. Town of Ocean Ridge,” she said.
Co-defense attorney Heidi Perlet presented a different take on the case.
She told jurors that Ocean Ridge police Lt. Steven Wohlfiel, who was visiting Lucibella as a friend the night of the arrest, became suddenly somber and told Lucibella someone close to him was dying of cancer. Then he pulled out his own gun and fired it into the ground, Perlet said.
“Mr. Lucibella was in shock; he didn’t know what to do,” Perlet said.
Arresting officer Richard Ermeri, who has since been promoted to sergeant, testified the following day that Lucibella was “vulgar, argumentative, aggressive and belligerent” that night.
“I did not push him and I did not grab him by the wrist,” Ermeri said.
Town police went to Lucibella’s beachfront backyard on Oct. 22, 2016, after neighbors reported hearing gunshots. They confiscated a .40-caliber handgun and found five spent shell casings on the patio.
An ensuing scuffle left Lucibella handcuffed on the ground with fractured ribs and an injury above his eye that required stitches. One of the responding officers, Nubia Plesnik, says she was injured and is suing Lucibella, who has a $10 million umbrella liability policy, in civil court.
The State Attorney’s office decided not to pursue a misdemeanor count against Lucibella of using a firearm while intoxicated. In the original charging document, Grundt also dropped a misdemeanor count that Ocean Ridge police had filed: discharging a firearm in public.
At a pretrial conference, Grundt told Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss she expected to wrap up the state’s side of the case by midday Jan. 30. Lucibella’s other defense attorney, Marc Shiner, said his defense would take three days.
During jury selection, Weiss told jurors the trial would last a week.
The judge told lawyers on both sides to have each day’s witnesses waiting their turn outside the courtroom. “I want to have a steady stream of witnesses going,” she said.
Lucibella is the chief executive of a multimillion-dollar Medicare shared savings group and publishes S.W.A.T. Magazine, a publication for “serious shooters, trainers and law enforcement personnel.”
He resigned as town commissioner and vice mayor when the State Attorney’s Office filed formal charges on Dec. 7, 2016.
The trial, first scheduled for April 2017, was postponed five times.