Reservist feels vindicated after state declines charges in beating

Author: Tom Brennan and Jos
Date Published: 03/09/2010
Publication: The Tampa Tribune
Staff photo by Michael Spooneybarger: Reservist Jasen Bruce, left, and his defense attorney Jeff Brown speak to the media at his office in St. Petersburg.
Staff photo by Michael Spooneybarger: Reservist Jasen Bruce, left, and his defense attorney Jeff Brown speak to the media at his office in St. Petersburg.

It was a case that pitted the word of a priest against that of a Marine reservist.

The Rev. Alexios Marakis of Greece said he was beaten bloody with a tire iron after asking the reservist for directions near downtown Tampa.

Lance Cpl. Jasen Bruce said he was only defending himself after a bearded man in a robe propositioned him and grabbed his genitals.

Today, the reservist’s word prevailed.

Hillsborough County prosecutors will not pursue charges against Bruce.

It is “evident that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bruce committed a crime and acted without legal justification,” said Mike Sinacore, head of the state attorney’s felony division.

Bruce, 28, said he feels vindicated but has been so overwhelmed by the pressures of the past four months that he can’t fully appreciate his victory.

“It has been frustrating,” he said. “And it’s all because of who the guy is and the political backing that he has.”

But Jerry Theophilopoulos, attorney for St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, said Bruce got special treatment because he was a police “snitch.”

“The state attorney’s office in Tampa either has no confidence in its attorneys or the charge was dropped because Jasen Bruce has been working with Tampa law enforcement as a confidential informant, otherwise known as a snitch, well before he beat the priest with a tire iron,” Theophilopoulos said.

Bruce’s attorney, Jeff Brown, said his client assisted Tampa police in undercover drug cases after a friend got into trouble.

Sinacore said that played no part in his office’s decision.

Bruce and Marakis crossed paths Nov. 9 in the parking garage of Seaport Channelside Apartments on Twiggs Street, where Bruce lives.

Police said Marakis, who was visiting St. Nicholas Greek, speaks halting English and was lost and seeking directions when he approached Bruce, who was not in uniform.

But Bruce said today that he was pulling his dress blues coat out of his trunk when Marakis grabbed him, putting his hands around his backside.

“I thought he was using it as a move to subdue me cause I’m a 220-pound guy,” Bruce said. “I really didn’t think the guy was crazy enough to walk up and grab me.”

He said he grabbed the tire iron, which was on top of the coat to keep it in place.

After clubbing Marakis, Bruce called 911 and chased the priest before pinning him down three blocks away.

In the 911 call, Bruce made a derogatory comment about a man he said was a terrorist and was trying to rob him and had grabbed him in a sexual manner, police said.

Bruce was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon; he was released on $7,500 bail.

Marakis, 29, was hospitalized but was back at work in two days.

Theophilopoulos said Marakis returned to Greece after completing his thesis, the task that brought him to Tarpon Springs, but was prepared to return to testify.

He said Marakis was willing to abide by the state attorney’s decision.

Brown disputed that Marakis was lost when he drove into the Seaport garage, showing surveillance video of the priest following another car through the gate. He also questioned whether the priest’s grasp of English was as limited as claimed.

Bruce said he got hate mail after the incident, and was most hurt that his mother and stepfather in New York also received hate mail.

He said he has forgiven Marakis.

“As far as the priest, I’m over it,” he said.

Reporter Tom Brennan can be reached at (813) 259-7698.