Soldier beating suspects described as ''polite,'' ''quiet,'' even ''nice''

8:38 PM, May 22, 2012   |    comments
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Video: Beating suspects described as polite, quiet, nice


South Tampa, Florida -- To hear it from some of their neighbors and relatives, you might think the three young men arrested so far in last week's beating of Sgt. Johnny Aparicio were saints, not ruthless thugs.

One relative even says police have got it all wrong.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking on their part. After all, it's hard to argue with what's shown in now-nationally seen video of Sgt. Johnny Aparicio being kicked, beaten and robbed.

Photo Gallery: Soldier beaten and robbed in South Tampa

But several people who know the young men find it difficult to believe they could have been involved in such a brutal attack.

For example Lerome Howard's grandmother, Alma, says her 18-year-old grandson is simply not the thug he's made out to be, despite the brutality shown on the home surveillance video where police say Howard and three other men mercilessly beat Aparicio.

"It's not true what happened," she says. "It's not true."

Disbelief seems to be a common theme, and not just when it comes to Howard. At Geroshe Lewis' home in South Tampa, relatives asked us to go away and declined to comment, but neighbor Dave Curty was perfectly willing to speak about Lewis in glowing terms.

"He's very polite. Nice neighbor," said Curty. "Not at all what you heard about in the news."

It was the same response we got in the Tampa neighborhood where Howard occasionally stays with his aunt, and where police arrested him over the weekend.

"He wasn't a bad kid. Never rude or disrespectful," said Tracy, a neighbor who lives across the street.

Tracy describes Howard as being quiet, even gentle with the local pets and children.

"He's never shown anything aggressive or mean. He plays with the kids," he said.

Even at the home of 18-year-old Jared Richardson, whose family owns a house in Brandon, there was disbelief.

Richardson was the alleged driver of the car the night of the attack and is also the suspect, say police, who joins in the beating last, when Sgt. Aparicio is already debilitated and defenseless.

"I'm shocked. I have goosebumps," said neighbor Kathryn Rodriguez.

Rodriguez says it's simply not what she'd ever have expected from the young man three houses down from her, especially given the family that raised him.

"They're nice. I mean, seriously, they're just nice people," she said.

All three young men have been released on bail, but prosecutors may ask that bond be revoked at hearing later this week.

In the meantime, Tampa police were still looking for the fourth suspect in the video.

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