Ocean Ridge: State rests its case against Lucibella; defense begins

By Steve Plunkett

The judge in Richard Lucibella’s felony trial declared Jan. 30 that prosecutors had delivered sufficient evidence against the former Ocean Ridge vice mayor for the case to continue.

“The court finds at this stage the state has presented a prima facie case,” Circuit Judge Dahlia Weiss said after defense attorney Marc Shiner asked her to dismiss both charges against Lucibella, battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.

After the state rested its case, Shiner argued that town police had no reason to be in Lucibella’s backyard and that made the charges invalid. Assistant State Attorney Danielle Grundt said the officers were investigating a complaint of “shots fired” and at that point thought someone could have been shot.

Earlier, Grundt and Chief Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams showed jurors a cellphone video of Lucibella walking to the squad car after his arrest and him complaining that he would not get into a vehicle with arresting Officer Richard Ermeri. “This man attacked me,” he is heard saying.

They also showed video of Lucibella in the holding cell at the Ocean Ridge Police Department throwing moistened toilet paper at the surveillance camera to block its view.

A video screen-grab from the Ocean Ridge Police Department shows then-Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella throwing moistened toilet paper at a camera in the holding cell at the police department. The gray square in the foreground blocks any view of the  toilet as a privacy screen. Image provided 

Earlier in the trial, Ermeri said Lucibella tried to “walk through” him to get into his house, something Ermeri did not want him to do. He put up his hands to stop Lucibella but the vice mayor walked into him.

“He started poking me several times in the chest,” Ermeri testified, describing the action as “a forceful poke—like that,” he said, thumping his chest with his finger.

The defense's first witness, Barbara Ceuleers, disputed the police's narrative and said Lucibella, her "significant other" for the past 12 years, appeared normal and did not smell of alcohol. She said Ermeri was the aggressor. 

"He was just yelling at him—stop, you can't go into the house. You have weapons," Ceuleers said.

The trial is continuing with testimony scheduled from former Ocean Ridge police Lt. Steven Wohlfiel, who was at Lucibella’s house that night as a friend. The defense attorneys say Wohlfiel is the person who shot the gun.

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.

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