MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The executive director of an LGBTQ organization in South Florida has been terminated.
It comes after four men accused of beating up a gay couple attended the gala for the SAVE organization.
The executive director for SAVE, Tony Lima, was criticized for defending the men on stage.
Lima posted a video over the weekend while out of the county to respond to the anger.
“I understand everybody is upset. I understand that a lot of people are appalled and that’s why I’m making this video, to be able to address that,” he said in the post.
“I first and foremost want to say really I’m sorry to the victims,” he added. “I apologize that this happening.”
Four men accused of a hate crime attended the organization’s gala on June 14th, and what Lima allegedly said on stage sparked outrage.
Lima says he doesn’t remember defending the men.
“I wanted to give them the opportunity to make themselves better,” he said. “I don’t remember ever saying ‘wrongfully accused’.’ I don’t speak in those terms, I’m not an attorney, but if that’s what I said in haste, I apologize for that. I am no one to pass judgment on this case.”
In 2018, Miami Beach Police say Luis Alonso, Juan Lopez, Adonis Diaz, and Pablo Romo attacked Rene Chalarca and Dmitry Logunov. The couple was on their way home from the city’s pride parade, and holding hands.
All four were charged with aggravated battery committed with prejudice, which falls under Florida’s hate crime enhancement law.
Now, a year later, Lima says the men accused wanted to show they were sorry.
“About six weeks ago I received a call from the gay parents of one of the four men that were accused of this horrific crime and they said they wanted to get involved with SAVE, they wanted to give back to the community, and really be able to show the community that they are committed to being their best selves.”
Lima says the men volunteered with SAVE leading up to the gala and even bought tickets themselves.
“My mistake [was] I did that on my own, I didn’t check in with my board or anyone like that,” he said. “When I saw them at the event I wanted them to feel welcomed and really be able to have the opportunity to engage with our community at a deeper level.”
Lima thanks the board of SAVE for being supportive of him during this time.
On Sunday, SAVE released a statement saying Lima would be on paid administrative leave as a review of what happened, adding:
However, as of Monday night, SAVE Board of Directors released a statement announcing Lima was terminated, saying, “The SAVE Board of Directors has made the unanimous decision to terminate Tony Lima’s employment as executive director of the organization following the events that transpired around this year’s Champions of Equality Gala and thereafter. We deeply regret the damage this has caused the LGBTQ+ community in South Florida, particularly during a time when the country was reflecting on the riots at Stonewall, as well as the many other hardships and abuses that our community continues to endure. These actions have been incredibly upsetting to the community and most of all, hurtful to the victims of this terrible crime. We deeply apologize for the pain that has been reignited. The community can rest assured that this incident is not reflective of the mission of SAVE. As we move forward, we will work hard to regain the trust of our supporters, our allies, and the public at large.”
The state attorney’s office released a statement last week, saying the case is still active.
They believe there is enough evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.