Man cleared in FPL showdown arrested for alleged rape

Ernesto Vino, who used a controversial self-defense claim in confrontation with utility company, charged with sexual battery.

11/08/2012 5:26 PM

11/09/2012 6:42 AM

Ernesto Che Vino, the Miami-Dade homeowner cleared of assaulting two utility company workers under the state’s controversial self-defense law, is back behind bars — this time, police say, for raping his neighbor.

His case drew headlines in November 2010 when a judge, citing the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, ruled Vino was justified in pointing his rifle at two Florida & Power Light workers trying to shut off his electricity.

The utility company, which has the legal right to enter a property to shut off delinquent accounts, protested the decision. After the judge’s ruling, the company added undisclosed extra “security measures” when turning off power to homes.

Vino, 44, was arrested last week and charged with sexual battery. His 22-year-old neighbor told Miami-Dade detectives that Vino “covered her mouth with his hand to keep her from screaming,” then threatened to punch her before raping her, according to an arrest report.

The report does not say where the alleged attack happened.

He is being held at Miami-Dade County Jail, and faces arraignment Nov. 26. His lawyer could not reached for comment.

Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat from a deadly threat before using deadly force themselves. Just as vexing for prosecutors, the law gave judges — before a case goes to a jury — greater power to grant “immunity” to someone they believe acted in self-defense.

The law has garnered national scrutiny since a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman in Sanford killed an unarmed Miami Gardens teen, Trayvon Martin, in February. That man, George Zimmerman, is claiming self-defense while awaiting trial for murder.

In Miami-Dade, judges in at least three murder cases have thrown charges based on the law.

While no one was harmed physically in Vino’s case, the case drew interest because of the potential affect on utility workers, repo men or legal process serves who sometimes have to enter private property.

The incident happened in March 9, 2009, when FPL employees Bruno Berrio and Timothy Pyke went to Vino’s trailer home at the Jones Fishing Camp, a rural trailer park at the edge of the Everglades in Northwest Miami-Dade.

Looking to collect past-due payments or shut off the power, Berrio and Pyke said they beeped their horn, and had a neighbor try to call Vino. Finally, the pair used a ladder to scale the trailer home’s fence and knocked on his door, they testified.

Vino, who claimed to be a former Navy sniper, rushed out wielding a rifle. He claimed he did not know who the men were and was defending his family.

But Pyke and Berrio, both in FPL uniform, told police they immediately identified themselves as FPL employees.

Then Vino — still pointing his gun — “marched them” off his property, slapping the helmet off Pyke before shooting the rifle in the air as the terrified men scrambled back over the fence, they testified.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton sided with Vino, who claimed he had been the victim of a vicious beating-burglary in the past. Thornton cleared him of two felony of aggravated assault with a firearm, and a misdemeanor count of improper exhibition of a firearm.

Vino is still awaiting trial on a misdemeanor count of unlawfully discharging a firearm in public for shooting the rifle in the air.

“We are disappointed in the ruling because we feel it has the potential to put our employees in the field at significant risk,” a FPL spokeswoman said at the time.

Prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision. But in September, a Miami appeals court upheld Thornton’s decision.

Since the Vino confrontation, a FPL spokeswoman said Thursday, the company has “added extra measures to keep our employees safe. However, we do not disclose those specifics.”

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