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  1. Opinion

No charges for the pirate a woman said groped her at Gasparilla. What does it say about Tampa?

Maybe you heard.

At Tampa's annual Gasparilla festival in January, a member of the elite Ye Mystic Krewe — the powerful men who dress as pirates to "invade" the city and take a traditional swashbuckle down the parade route — was accused of groping a woman along the way.

Given the unique nature of the event, and Gasparilla's evolving history, the story took off.

Even the New York Post wrote about a cigar chomping "costumed creep" that Rina Alvarez, 37, said yanked down her top while she was in the crowd and ink-stamped her breast without her consent. (We can revisit that ink-stamping-of-body-parts tradition in a minute.)

Weeks passed while the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office mulled the allegation. Then, as the lawyer for the unidentified pirate told me when I asked this week, he was told his client was not being prosecuted.

Attorney Paul Sisco says a prosecutor told him in late March that the office was ''no-filing" — not filing charges.

"Any kind of exploitation or abuse of a person of course is horrid," Sisco said. "But it became evident early on that this did not occur."

"The evidence clearly indicated that the accused did not commit the offense," State Attorney's spokeswoman Estella Gray said when I asked Thursday.

According to documents, two witnesses — a couple near Alvarez that day — both said she was pulling down her shirt and accepting stamps.

The accused pirate passed a polygraph saying he did not do this. He pointed out that a photo she initially posted on Facebook showed a pirate costume different from his own. He and his father, also a pirate, gave sworn statements denying the incident.

"When you do this long enough, there comes a time when you've got to look your client in the eye and find out what their recollections are," Sisco said. "And there was no doubt he had nothing to do with this."

Alvarez contacted the Times on Friday and vehemently denied she pulled down her shirt or acted inappropriately. She stood by what she said happened to her that day and was disappointed and angry that charges were not filed.

"The way victims are treated when things like this happen is the reason people do not speak up," she said via Facebook. "What happened to me happened and it is disgusting."

Given that the allegation spurred conversation on everything from Tampa privilege to the MeToo movement to behavior on all sides of the parade route, it's a puzzle why prosecutors did not make their findings public weeks ago.

Didn't the citizens of Tampa, not to mention the woman at the center of the case and the accused pirate, deserve a straightforward public explanation and conclusion from State Attorney Andrew Warren, who is by the way seeking re-election?

City boosters will tell you the more-than-a-century-old Gasparilla event has come a long way. Diverse krewes are part of the parade. And it should also be said that Ye Mystic Krewe reacted to the initial allegations appropriately, saying such behavior would be against its values and the man in question wasn't participating in Krewe activities until the investigation played out.

Still, parade photos going back years — some too bawdy for a family newspaper — show some pirates armed with pirate-themed stamps making their marks on willing hands, faces, and yes, bared bellies and breasts along the parade route. Part of Sisco's investigation included an interview with a local printer who sells the stamps and whose records did not show the accused pirate or his father ever purchased one.

What does all this mean for Tampa?

Maybe something about how far we've come, and still have to go.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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