“We taught him a lesson that if the law won´t do anything, (we) will,” said Gregorio Vindas, president of the community association responsible for the beating.
The vigilante attack occurred Feb. 8 at the San Cayetano bridge, two kilometers from Venecia de San Carlos.
Participants said they carried out their attack after two Croatian engineers working for the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) on a hydroelectric project were assaulted Feb. 5 and a judge allowed the suspects to go free shortly after they were arrested.
The Venecia Development Association called a meeting to address crime in the area after the assault on the Croatians, who were beaten and robbed of $3,500 by up to eight individuals.
Vindas said his group is the de facto government for the Venecia district within San Carlos canton.
Vindas said residents picked their target, an alleged thief nicknamed “The Tattooed One,” even though he had nothing to do with the assaults on the Croatians.
“His bill came due,” Vindas said.
The vigilantes said they knew he had robbed many of their farms and they were tired of waiting for the police to do something about criminals acting with impunity.
“The assaults on the Croatians marked our community,” he said. “They really bothered us and we decided to send a message to the criminals.”
Another participant, Sergio Ruiz, a farmer, was less equivocal and called the beaten bandit the group´s “guinea pig” in its new strategy.
“We decided to clean the community,” he said. “Eighty to 90 of us held tight and beat him, hit him, punished him and left him in a battered state. The law is very soft but we are organized against the little gangs who try to make the night, our public parks and boulevards unsafe.”
Vindas said he eventually broke up the mob to save the man´s life.
“It´s difficult to control such a large group but we just wanted to teach him a lesson, not kill him.”
On Monday, the first business day after the association´s assault, the same San Carlos Criminal Court that had granted the alleged perpetrators of the Croatian robberies their freedom rescinded that order after an appeal by the prosecutor. A judge ordered them re-arrested with three months of preventive prison.
Ruiz and Vindas took credit for the judge´s decision.
But Lillian González, the second-in-charge at the Chief Prosecutor´s Office in San José, said the abrupt change was just a coincidence – and a matter of due diligence by the prosecutor.
Region Eight Police Chief Rodrigo Araya, who is responsible for San Carlos canton, said after the judge ordered preventive prison, seven people have been rearrested for the assault on the Croatians.
San Carlos Judicial Investigation Police Chief Melvin Gómez said his office was not investigating the vigilante action taken against The Tattooed One because his office never received a complaint. He said the local police pleaded ignorance of the incident.
Acknowledging he wasn´t upset by the association´s actions, Gómez said he couldn´t condone it.
“They gave him a good spanking,” he said, bemusedly. “But I don´t think it is appropriate because they had the obligation to report it to the police and not use force.”
Vindas said the community is already seeing positive results from their action.
“Now, the night times here are peaceful and the delinquents are off the streets,” he said.
Not surprisingly, The Tattooed One disappeared from town after leaving the hospital, according to residents.