Italian police charged for blindfolding Marin County suspect

The shocking photo leaked from a police station in Rome shows an 18-year-old from Marin County handcuffed and blindfolded before his interrogation about the death of an Italian police officer this past summer.

Today, Italian authorities announced three police officers associated with that picture and the case now face charges. I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes has been working sources here and in Rome.

Italian police have finished their investigation and two officers face charges for the blindfold and the photograph; another, for lying about an essential part of the case.

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Just hours after 35-year-old Carabinieri Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed to death on this street corner in Rome, two young men from the Bay Area were under arrest in their hotel room.

19-year-old Finnegan Elder of San Francisco admitted killing Rega, but claimed it was self-defense and that he didn't know Rega was an officer.

18-year-old Gabriel Natale of Mill Valley is charged with what amounts to being an accessory to murder. He was able to push a different officer away and run off.

But this is the photograph that stunned so many people; Natale blindfolded at a police station before his interrogation.

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Maria Elena Vincenzi covers the courts in Rome, and wrote today's story for La Repubblica about the blindfold.

"That was horrible to see and was horrible for us, even for Italians to see and I figure for Americans, it was even worse."

Vincenzi tells us the officer who placed the blindfold on Natale is charged with what amounts to exceeding his authority, as is the officer who took the picture and uploaded it in two WhatsApp groups. He also is accused of leaking details of the case, just hours after his colleague's death.

Vincenzi says, "On the WhatsApp groups, he even said that the two guys were trying to buy drugs, and because it was not proved yet, it was nothing yet, I mean it was the first day."
A third officer faces a charge about lying to investigators.

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He said Rega's partner, Andrea Varriale, gave him his service weapon at the hospital after that fatal fight, when in fact, neither of the officers was armed as they approached that street corner for a pre-arranged meeting with the young men. Varriale faces a "dereliction of duty" charge for not bringing his gun that night.

San Francisco attorney Antonio Valla grew up in Italy, still does work there, and has been monitoring this case.

"The defense will do a good job, there's no doubt about that," Valla told us. "They'll make whatever use they can out of the police behavior. But as we all know in that country and in our country, police behavior isn't necessarily what gets the case won. It happens all the time, and police don't behave well all of the time."

Gabe Natale's father arrived in Rome this morning; this is video of him from this summer after visiting his son in prison. Fabrizio Natale emailed the I-Team's Dan Noyes today, "We don't have any comment, we look forward to justice running its course."

But in an exclusive interview this summer, he told us, "It certainly didn't feel good to see that photo. It's the understatement of the year." And about his son's arrest, "You just feel emptiness. If feels like the whole world is crashing in on you."

The trial for those two young men from the Bay Area starts in about two months, the same time-frame when the officers who were charged today could face a judge.

Go here for the I-Team's full coverage of the Rome police stabbing.
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