173rd paratroopers get suspended sentences in Vicenza brawl
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 12, 2016
VICENZA, Italy — Twelve paratroopers received eight-month suspended sentences on Thursday morning after pleading guilty in connection with a bloody fight outside a disco with a group of African men.
The 12 did not appear in the local Italian court and were represented by a Vicenza lawyer.
A 13th paratrooper involved in the Sunday morning brawl was injured in the incident and had not been charged, said the lawyer, Alberto Negri. The injury was not serious, he said. Original reports said all 13 were arrested.
The sentences mean the soldiers, all from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, face no further punishment from local authorities. It’s unclear whether the Army will discipline them.
The judge also fined the troops 2,600 euros in damages to be paid to the owner of the Liv nightclub in Bassano del Grappa. But experts on the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Italy said that only the Army — not individual troops — can be asked to pay damages.
The sentences were the result of a plea agreement. The soldiers had been charged with “rissa,” an Italian word that translates as “brawl.”
Club owner Samule Bucciol had asked for 150,000 euros in damages, according to Il Giornale di Vicenza. “They split acoustic systems and sofas, smeared ... blood, kicked parked cars and even an ambulance,” Bucciol told the paper. “Many people, perhaps out of fear, came out without paying.”
What’s more, he said, the incident had damaged the club’s formerly pristine reputation.
“We’re the real victims of this affair,” he said.
A lawyer with knowledge of the case said that not all the soldiers had agreed to plead guilty until Thursday. That’s because they thought it was unfair that they had been arrested, though they believed they had acted responsibly by remaining at the scene, while the Africans had fled.
The Associated Press reported that three Senegalese men had also been arrested in the incident. But Negri said he couldn’t confirm that. “We don’t know about that,” he said.
It was still unclear Thursday morning what had caused the clash. According to local media, the soldiers said they’d reacted after one of them had been stabbed by an African man. All but one of the troops is African-American, said the lawyer who knows about the case and declined to be identified.
The AP quoted Carabinieri Lt. Col. Martino Salvo as saying that one soldier was slashed in the arm. In all, four Americans and two Senegalese were injured, he told the AP.
The fight included knives and was among the worst instances of barroom brawling in the past 20 years, according to local media.
The soldiers were still riled up when police and ambulances arrived at the nightclub a little after 4 a.m. According to Bucciol, when the fight was over, they were “crazy.”
“It had never happened such a thing; we have done everything to calm the people, help the wounded and to protect other customers. Our staff, together with the security men, has done a commendable job, managing to bring the protagonists of the fight outside the club.”