TAMPA — Jasen Bruce, the Marine reservist who has remained silent since police accused him of hitting a Greek Orthodox priest with a tire iron Monday, spoke publicly for the first time Thursday — with Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Bruce, 28, talked with the shock jock on his syndicated morning show. He repeated his lawyer's account that the priest sexually attacked him, spoke of initially being heralded as a "hero" by police and declared his heterosexuality in the face of online pictures that show him flexing his muscles while wearing little clothing.
Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy said police are still investigating and don't want to give a blow-by-blow response to Bruce's account. But "his credibility is in question as part of our investigation," she said.
Police say the bearded, robed priest got incorrect directions from his global positioning device, left Interstate 275 and found himself driving around the Channel District. He followed a row of cars into the Seaport Channelside condominiums and approached Bruce, who was bent over the trunk of his car. He tapped on his shoulder before uttering, in broken English, the words "help" and "please."
Police say that's when Bruce hit him with the tire iron, chased him for three blocks and pinned him to the ground, telling a 911 operator that he was chasing an Arab terrorist who tried to rob and sexually attack him.
According to Bruce
This is Bruce's account:
"I turned around and there was a man standing within 2 feet from me. Originally, I thought he was possibly a homeless guy about to ask for directions. But not more than a few seconds went by and the man reached out (and) grabbed my genitalia. … I proceeded to put my hands on him to back him off. …
"He put his hands on my neck … I dropped to the ground … got out of this guy's hold, and since my trunk was open I proceeded to grab a tire iron, and I gave him two warnings."
At this point, Bruce says, he called 911 and told the priest not to take a step closer. He took a step closer, Bruce said, "so I defended myself. "This guy did not even flinch. … He put his hands up, took two more steps toward me, and that's when I proceeded to defend myself again. …
"This time, the guy ran. I'm thinking I'm not going to let this guy go. He knows where I live. … I have a family to defend."
Bruce said he circled the Grand Central condominium twice and ended up in front of the Powerhouse Gym on Kennedy Boulevard. He said he kept telling the priest, "Stay right there."
"That's when he turned around and lunged at me. And that was the last time I defended myself, which finally took the guy down. Simultaneously, the police pulled up."
Police dispute points
Bruce said police called him later, when they found the priest's car, and said they wanted Bruce to come down and give them details. He said the police let him search the priest's car, and that they found a suitcase. The police feared opening it, but Bruce put his ear up to it, he said. And he shook it.
They asked, "What did this guy say to you again?" And he responded, "Some type of akbar stuff." They asked if he knew what that meant, Allahu akbar, an Arabic phrase for "God is great" that witnesses said was recently uttered by the Fort Hood shooting suspect. Bruce responded, "That's what they say before they blow you up."
He said the police stepped back and allowed Bruce to open the suitcase. Without commenting on the specifics, McElroy said that police would never allow someone to touch evidence.
Other things Bruce said in the interview: He doesn't use steroids, though a Greek Orthodox church spokesman calls the attack " 'roid rage." He modeled, but didn't pose for gay porn, though Web sites have posted photos of him in suggestive poses. He and his mother have received death threats.
McElroy, the police spokeswoman, said she heard the radio interview. "It's certainly his right to give his account," she said, "but we are focused on our investigation. … We said all along that his accounts didn't add up."
One item she said she could talk about: Bruce told police he was scheduled for deployment to Iraq in January. "That," McElroy said, "turned out not to be true."
The priest has told those close to him that he forgives Bruce for attacking him, but that he was shocked by the sex allegation.
Police will collaborate with the State Attorney's Office to determine whether the attack should be classified as a hate crime, McElroy said. She said police have still not determined when they will release the 911 tape.
When asked whether the Times could interview Bruce, his lawyer Jeff Brown said, "No. Not after the coverage you guys gave."
When asked what reasoning went into the decision for Bruce to speak to Bubba the Love Sponge, Brown replied, "No comment."
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com