Miami-Dade County

Miami lawmaker denies punching college student in Tallahassee bar

A college student visiting Tallahassee from South Carolina said he was punched by state Rep. Frank Artiles at a local bar. But the Miami lawmaker says he was “set up” and that the fight never took place.
A college student visiting Tallahassee from South Carolina said he was punched by state Rep. Frank Artiles at a local bar. But the Miami lawmaker says he was “set up” and that the fight never took place. Courtesy Florida House of Representatives

A college student visiting Tallahassee from South Carolina said he was punched by state Rep. Frank Artiles at a local bar on Monday night. But the Miami lawmaker says he was “set up” and that the fight never took place.

The student, Peter Alberti, who is from Connecticut and attends college in Charleston, South Carolina, said he has not decided about pressing possible charges against Artiles.

Alberti said Artiles decked him at Clyde’s and Costello’s, a downtown Tallahassee hangout steps from the Florida Capitol. The incident happened late Monday, hours before the start of the annual legislative session.

“He was trying to get by, up at the bar, to get drinks,” Alberti told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He punched me in the face.”

In a text message to the Miami Herald, Artiles, a 41-year-old Miami Republican, said the fight “Didn’t happen.”

“It is a setup,” Artiles texted to the Herald after learning from a reporter that the newspaper had spoken to Alberti.

It’s the second time Artiles, who represents deep Southwest Miami-Dade County, has been whispered about in the Capitol over a purported punch. One of Artiles’ friends, former state Rep. Doug Holder, even joked in his farewell House of Representatives speech last year that he would leave Artiles former state Rep. Rob Schenck’s punching bag.

“Aides aren’t so good for that,” Holder said, referring to a rumored, earlier scuffle between Artiles and another lawmaker’s aide.

Tuesday’s incident was made public at 1:37 a.m., when L.J. Govoni, a former aide to U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Tampa Republican, tweeted at Artiles:

Govoni continued to jab Artiles in a series of tweets that tagged several people, including a blogger and a reporter. Govoni did not respond to interview requests Tuesday. But another man who witnessed the incident independently corroborated Govoni’s — and Alberti’s — version of events.

Alberti said he “had no idea” who Artiles was after the lawmaker clocked him and moved behind the bar at Clyde’s.

Three men — apparently Govoni and his friends — identified Artiles to Alberti and angrily tried to get the lawmaker’s attention. They also pushed Alberti to report him to police. Alberti said he hasn’t filed charges and is unsure if he will.

Artiles, first reached by phone before a reporter had spoken to Alberti, gave a different account of the night, saying he didn’t hit anyone. He did acknowledge being heckled when he stood behind the bar.

“Nothing happened last night,” he said. “This person was asking me to go outside. He was with two of his friends. I think he was intoxicated.”

“I left the bar. I did not have a drink at the bar or anything,” Artiles said.

Artiles said he may ask an attorney to issue a cease-and-desist order against Govoni to stop him from tweeting at him. He also speculated he was being targeted by political enemies opposed to his contentious positions, such as challenging Citizens Property Insurance and trying to prohibit local governments from allowing transgender men and women into the public bathrooms of their choice.

Miami politicians have been known to brawl over the years.

Then-Reps. Luis Rojas and Mario Diaz-Balart had to be separated on the Florida House floor in 1991 after Diaz-Balart, in a personal discussion, insulted Rojas’ mother. Seven years later, Reps. Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat and Carlos Valdes tussled in the chambers over private-school tuition vouchers after Rodriguez-Chomat called Valdes a “jackass” and grabbed him by the necktie. And in 2000, Reps. Carlos Lacasa and Renier Diaz de la Portilla duked it out on the parking lot of Miami Spanish-language radio station Radio Mambí after Lacasa’s father insulted Diaz de la Portilla’s father on air.

But those fights were between politicians — not with a member of the public.

A former Marine, Artiles suggested Tuesday he would only deliver the kind of blow that would result in serious pain. “If I had hit somebody, they’d be in the hospital,” he said.

But Alberti dismissed the severity of the punch.

“I was fine,” he said.

An earlier version of this story mistakenly said it was Lacasa who insulted Diaz de la Portilla’s father. It was Lacasa’s father.

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