February 23, 2003
A life forever changed
From: Vero Beach Press-Journal, FL - 23 Feb 2003
By Ed Bierschenk staff writer
Easter Sunday's breaking dawn shone down on Tari Gabriel's single shoe resting in the parking lot of the Bottoms Up bar in South Brevard County.
A remnant of a life forever changed.
For in that morning of divine celebration for millions of Christians, Tari Gabriel had been pulled into a personal hell that sears her to this day.
By her own admission, the 45-year-old Sebastian woman was not a Christ-like figure when she came to the Micco bar in the wee morning hours of April 4, 1999, after what she said had been fights with both her husband and boyfriend.
Still, it's inconceivable to think anything she did in her life would cause her to be deserving of the sustained beating and sexual battery that left her bloody and battered several hours later near the side of Valkaria Road, about 1.5 miles west of U.S. 1.
"What was most striking to me was the fact that both of her eyes were blackened, and she had blood about her face, and that every inch of her body that I could see almost seemed to have some sort of scrape or contusion on it," said William Hofkovec, who was a paramedic with the Harbor City Volunteer Ambulance service the morning Gabriel was found.
Almost as inconceivable to believe for some people is that the man accused of brutally assaulting Gabriel and another woman may be released from jail without ever standing trial for the two crimes because of his speech and hearing difficulties.
The patrons of the bar that Gabriel had entered early Easter morning was a "fairly tight-knit group," said Brevard County Sheriff's Office investigator Alexander A. Fischback IV during a court proceeding for Gabriel's alleged assailant, Daniel Taft Harrison.
"I mean there's no dancing or ... it's just you go there to drink. There's no entertainment or anything like that. So the people who go there, you know, it's pretty much the same crowd. Every Friday night is going to be the same 10 or 15 people every time. So anybody that's new to that group kind of sticks out," said Fischback.
Harrison had been at the bar only a couple of times, according to Fischback.
There were a significant number of people in the bar that night, according to Robert Bench, the manager of establishment.
The last call was 1:30 a.m., said Bench, and he testified Gabriel entered about 1:15 a.m. She said she had left another place that closes at 1 a.m., he said.
When she arrived, he wasn't sure she was was under the influence.
"But she did look very nice that night and I even complimented her on that," Bench said. "She was dressed in a nice blue dress and everything ... (she has) always been a lady."
Gabriel also was a very good drinker who favored vodka and tomato juice, he said. She hung around with a rough crowd, "some bikers, some not, but a rough crowd," said Bench.
Bench said Gabriel was the last customer to leave the building about 2 a.m. She appeared under the influence, although she was still able to talk clearly, he said. Bench said he was going to call her a cab, but she said she had her car outside.
Harrison also was allegedly in the bar that night.
Bench described a man who was wearing a baseball cap, stood about six feet tall and was stocky: "Not heavy, but a big chest, rounded face."
There was another detail about the man that would make him stick out. It was a feature that would have a profound impact on future criminal proceedings against the man, who was later identified by police as the 24-year-old Harrison.
"He couldn't talk," said Bench. "He had to write down what he wanted."
Bench said he gave the man a piece of paper and pencil on which Harrison wrote down "Rum and Coke," he said. Other people have said that Harrison, while deaf, did have some limited ability to speak.
Bench said Harrison had maybe two or three drinks and didn't appear to be under the influence when he left around 1:30 a.m.
He said he didn't see the man speak with Gabriel that night.
A few days before Christmas 2002, Tari Gabriel sits outside her rented duplex along Admiral Circle in Sebastian.
Unemployed and with a husband on disability, the slightly built woman has just been given two more pieces of distressing news.
She is facing eviction and the long-awaited trial of the man accused of assaulting her and another woman has been put on hold yet again.
Harrison is facing various charges, including kidnapping, sexual battery and aggravated battery in regard to alleged attacks against Gabriel in 1999 and another woman in 1998. If he were to be found guilty, the maximum penalties he could face could lock him away for life. He is currently being held in the Brevard County jail without bond..
Gabriel and her husband said they recently spent what little money they have to repair damage done to her chin during the alleged assault. Gabriel said a close friend even sold his motorcycle to help pay for the surgery.
She was able to obtain some money through her car-insurance policy. She didn't seek to sue Bottoms Up. She holds the bar blameless and notes that the bar owner's son, Raymond Tummolo, was instrumental in leading police to Harrison.
Despite the operation, Gabriel said she still experiences pain in that area of her face.
And while in public she often puts forth an outgoing buoyant front, she still said she experiences panic each month on the anniversary day of the April 4 attack. She fears the calls she has been recently receiving, with no one on the other end, may be from the man who allegedly assaulted her. She calls the Brevard County Jail on a regular basis, usually on the fourth of each month and late at night, to assure herself he is still behind bars.
Gabriel also blames Harrison and the alleged attack for her inability to obtain or keep a job.
"Because of him I'll be living in my car," she cries outside her duplex with her husband nearby.
Still, she later says "I almost feel sorry for him in a way, because he obviously has a lot of problems."
THE SOUNDS OF FREEDOM
Brevard County Judge John D. Moxley Jr., based on the report of expert witnesses, ruled in December that Harrison is not linguistically competent to stand trial at this time.
"I'm hopeful we can train him, but it remains to be seen," said Brevard County Assistant State Attorney James Earp.
It is a legal defense that comes up rarely and one that Earp has never before had to deal with in his 25 years as an attorney. Even national experts on disability law commented on the uniqueness of the legal quandry that could lead to Harrison's release.
On Dec. 12, Earp was given 30 days to prepare an educational plan for Harrison designed to bring the accused criminal up to a level of competency so he may stand trial. He later got a 60-extension from the court and as of early February, was still looking for an expert to help develop the plan.Earp said it is unclear exactly how long prosecutors have to try to bring him up to competency. He said the statutes allow prosecutors up to five years to try to bring somebody with mental illness up to competency and up to two years for somebody with autism, but the statutes don't address the issue of linguistic competency directly on this point.
Regardless of what the statutes say, Earp said it should not take two years to determine whether Harrison can be brought up to a level of competency to stand trial.
"If he is not competent, obviously we can't prosecute," said Earp.
If that is the case, then the question becomes whether Harrison can be confined since he apparently doesn't suffer from any mental illness.
"If he simply continues to be incompetent he might just get out eventually," said Earp. "Not a very happy solution."
Earp, however, said thinks the state will be able to develop the education plan needed to bring Harrison up to the competency level necessary to stand trial.
Harrison's attorney, Daniel S. Ciener disagrees and doesn't believe the state will be able to bring his client up to the necessary competency level. He said he thinks that there will either be a plea agreement or the charges will be dismissed by a judge. Even if Harrison was determined to be guilty, Ciener feels his client has served enough time in jail.
"If we can get him home with his family. I don't really care about what legal papers they sign," he said.
Upon hearing that Harrison could eventually be released from jail, Gabriel's eyes grow wide.
"He can't get out," she says. "He can't get out."
Ciener said if the case went to trial a different story than the one in the police reports would be told, but declined to go into details.
To those people who might be upset if Harrison were released, Ciener said he would tell them "Thank God, we live in America, instead of Iran or Iraq," because in the United States people are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
"How long would those people want this person who is presumed to be innocent locked up? What if this person was their father, or brother, or son."
Harrison's arrest for the assaults is not the first time he has been in trouble with the law.
He was arrested in Brevard County about four years before the alleged assault on Gabriel on charges of burglary, grand theft, trafficking in stolen property and given probation, which was revoked after he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge in mid-1995.
He spent some time in confinement following one arrest, Chris Livasy, Harrison's brother-in-law, a Palm Bay police officer, said during one of the many court hearings on the case. Livasy declined comment when contacted recently.
One facility to which Harrison was committed was supposed to "teach him responsibility, things like going shopping, balancing a checkbook, things of that nature. Living on your own, basically, becoming self-sufficient," said Livasy.
Livasy said his wife, Theresa, Harrison's sister, told him her brother had been totally deaf since he was about 2 years old when he had an infection in his ears.
Harrison attended schools in Rockledge, but Livasy said his wife told him, that "they somewhat pushed him through the grades. They (the family) don't think that he received the best education he probably could have."
Harrison is at the level of somebody who would just be starting out in grade school, Ciener said.
Harrison was always respectful to people Livasy saw him around, although the police officer acknowledged he didn't see him when he was drinking to excess.
Livasy was present during interrogations of his brother-in-law, at Harrison's request. His presence at those interviews is something that Ciener has argued should be grounds for throwing out statements Harrison allegedly made.
In papers filed with the court, Ciener claims officers with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office used the presence of Livasy to "coerce the defendant into making statements."
A certified sign language interpreter was also present when Harrison was interviewed on April 15, 1999, and allegedly admitted to battering Gabriel and committing sexual battery against her will, according to Brevard County sheriff's investigator Carlos Reyes,.
Deputy Tola Baum said Harrison several times changed his version of what happened until he finally stuck with the story that a "knife was pulled on him, that he overpowered the victim.
"And to teach her a lesson he decided to take her way far away from where her car was and drop her off where it would take her a while to get back."
According to Baum, Harrison admitted he then took her to a wooded area and sexually molested the woman.
Baum said there were inconsistencies in Harrison's story.
The officer said the injuries Gabriel had "weren't consistent with the way he (Harrison) was saying the struggle proceeded in the car. That was another thing. She had quite a few injuries on her compared to him having no injuries that could be seen."
Gabriel passed a voice stress analysis test, added Baum. He said Harrison's speech impediment would probably make it almost impossible to do one on him.
Another potential problem for the prosecution concerns the interrogation of the subject, according to Randy Lee, a professor with the Harrisburg, Pa., campus of the Widener University School of Law. The National Center for Law and the Deaf has described Lee as the nation's leading expert on deaf citizens and jury service.
According to Lee, some of the concepts Harrison would have to understand in terms of his Miranda rights are what he would have to understand in order to be found competent to stand trial.Ciener has argued that during the interrogation of his client, there was "significant miscommunications on important concepts."
He said Reyes and Baum used the presence of Livasy to coerce Harrison into making statements. He also said Harrison was not informed of his rights on April 9 or April 15 when officers spoke with him and that he wasn't allowed to have the interview stopped as he had allegedly requested.
Lee said whether Harrison goes to trial, it is in everyone's best interest he receive more training and education.
"Regardless how this plays out, the key is you don't want to be in this same position with this same guy," said Lee.
"SHE WAS JUST GENERALLY BEAT TO CRAP"
Hofkovec said he received an ambulance call to the scene at 10:09 a.m. and arrived to find a woman sitting on the road in the company of two Brevard County sheriff's officers and some firefighters. He said she was taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center at 10:50 a.m.
"I know that was Easter Sunday," said the paramedic. "I remembered thinking to myself that it was a shame that something would happen to somebody like this on Easter Sunday."
The woman stated she was abducted by force at approximately 2:20 a.m. and brought to a relatively secluded area, sexually assaulted and beaten, Hofkovec testified at an Oct. 12, 1999, deposition.
In describing her injuries, he said, both eyes had large ecchymotic (a discoloration caused by the oozing of blood from a blood vessel into the tissues) areas about them. He said there was a large ecchymotic area on outer jaw; multiple contusions about the face, dry blood in both nostrils of the nose, an upper right tooth was missing and several others were chipped.
"She was just generally beat to crap," said Fischback.
Gabriel also lost consciousness during the night for an unknown period of time, said Hofkevec, and she had numerous abrasions about the legs, feet, arms, and hands and what appeared to be three fingerprints on the interior aspect of the upper right arm. He said he had seen similar handprints on people who have been grabbed.
"From what I remember, she said she was getting into her vehicle and somebody approached her and asked her for a ride. And she said "No," and then he forced her into the car and drove north," said Hofkevic.
During a hearing on July 14, 1999, when Harrison's then attorney, Richard Canina, was seeking a $50,000 bond and home confinement for his client, prosecutor Susan Stewart described the injuries of Harrison's other alleged victim.
"... we're talking about a victim who had her eye her orbital eye broken all around from the severe beating. When she got to the hospital her ears were bleeding, she had a broken arm severely broken arm. She's still got wires and pins and everything all in her right now. She's got to go through more surgeries."
"WELL, I DIED ON APRIL 4, 1999"
In an affidavit for a search warrant by Reyes, Gabriel said it was dark and she didn't see Harrison standing outside of her car in the Bottoms Up parking lot. She said after abducting and beating her to the point of unconsciousness, she was able to distract him with the tennis bracelet her husband had bought her for Christmas.
As he stared at the item in the moonlight, Gabriel said she managed to run away.
"It took me three hours to get out of the woods where there was palmettos I have scars still on my legs with no shoes on," she said at one court hearing. "And it took me three hours to find my way out of the woods because my eyes were so black and swollen that I couldn't see where I was going and it was in the middle of the night.
The Brevard County Sheriff's Office allegedly was later told by a couple of people, including Raymond Tummolo, that Harrison had informed them that he had battered a woman he met at the Micco bar after closing.
Between the first two interviews the sheriff's office conducted with Harrison in April 1999, he also became a suspect in the earlier assault from 1998 in which the description of the assailant allegedly matched Harrison, according to Deputy Baum.
"I did nothing to him. I didn't know him. He just I was it was a random act of violence. And if you let him out today, he's going to do this to someone else," said Gabriel.
Gabriel has faced her own troubles with the law since the incident, including arrests on alcohol and drug charges. She recently pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence, but said her arrest on a drug charge was a mistake and the drugs found in her residence belonged to somebody else who was at her home at the time.
She said she never was in trouble with the law prior to the April 4, 1999, incident and doesn't know if she is going to remain in the area while her alleged assailant's case slowly winds its way to the court system.
"Well, I died on April 4, 1999," said Gabriel during one of Harrison's court hearings. "When this happened to me, Easter Sunday morning ... That holiday to me is no longer existent. Every fourth of the month I have nightmares. I my life is over. I live with this every day and if he gets out I will be things that people take for granted, like just walking to your car in the parking lot, I don't get to do that anymore."
As she sits outside her Sebastian duplex, Gabriel said she only is speaking out now to warn other women. Women who walk to their cars under the illusion of safety in a civilized world.
In the meantime, in a Brevard County Jail for now, Daniel Taft Harrison waits inside an enclosure of concrete and silence.
© 2002 - The E.W. Scripps Co.