Two Canadian men imprisoned in the Dominican Republic following a post-wedding brawl last month have been released and will be returning to Canada, a family member says.
Nick Miele, 34, and his cousin, Ben Constantini, 18, both of Stoney Creek, Ont., had been behind bars since the early morning of May 28, just hours after Miele and Stacey Vernon were married at the Bahia Principe Esmeralda resort in Punta Cana.
Prior to their release, Vernon said her husband and his cousin were thrown in jail unjustly after a fight broke out at their resort between Canadian men they didn't know.
Josie Depaola, aunt of the two men detained in the Dominican Republic, told CBC News that the two men were released Monday.
"Today, finally, all the papers were signed and the boys were released and exonerated," she said. "So they're coming home."
A statement from Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) Diane Ablonczy's office Monday evening didn't provide specific details about how the legal proceedings had been resolved.
However, the statement said the "two Canadian parties involved in an altercation in the Dominican Republic have found common ground in order to resolve their situation."
The statement went on to say that Canada has called for "fairness and due process for both parties" and that Dominican officials had said that "all involved will continue to be treated justly and according to local laws while on Dominican Republic soil."
Prosecution had been seeking $100K in damages
Prosecutors in the popular tourist destination had been seeking a two-year jail term for the two men following the incident, which happened at a Punta Cana resort. Court documents obtained by CBC News revealed that in addition to the jail terms, prosecutors had also been asking for $100,000 in damages against Miele and Constantini.
CBC News reached a legal expert in the Dominican Republic who explained that criminal and civil cases can be linked together there. In this case, the jail time would be criminal, and the $100,000 would be civil damages. That amount is requested by the victim and presented to the court by the prosecution.
Depaola, who didn't see the incident herself, said the two men were supposed to get out on Friday, but were in jail over the weekend.
"We were all crying. Tears of joy," she said, after the family received word that the two men had been released.
She said the men are back at the resort and hope to return to Canada this week.
Clash at resort
Vernon stayed in the Dominican along with other family members while trying to free the men.
Earlier, she called the allegations "ridiculous."
"We're really hopeful this will all be over soon. I'm in the courts pretty much all day," she said before the men were released.
Justin Worby of Georgetown, Ont., was at the resort at the same time for his wedding, and told CBC News that the fight started between two men in line at the resort's snack bar. He had never met Miele, Constantini or Vernon before that night, he said.
"They fell down on a group of women, and one of [the women] got hit in the face," Worby said. Miele and Constantini both "jumped in and started fighting the guy," while the other man involved took off, he said. Worby said the woman the men fell on was Vernon.
A third man jumped in to kick and sucker punch the man Constantini and Miele were struggling with, Worby said. Jennifer Schanck from Burlington, Ont., who also witnessed the fight, gave a similar account.
"From behind me, from out of nowhere, this guy is screaming in what sounded like Russian," she said. "He just flew in and drop-kicked this other guy. It was unbelievable. I thought he was dead."
That man then took off over the resort fence, she said.
'I was telling them to stop hitting him'
According to a written statement from the wife of the seriously injured man, both Miele and Constantini were involved in the fight.
"I saw some people jump on my husband," the woman wrote. "[Miele] hit my husband and another person — the other guy was pushing him. He was on the ground. I was telling them to stop hitting him."
The injured man sustained trauma to the head, bruising and some superficial injuries, according to a medical report filed with the court.
The Canadian government will not divulge the identities of the other men involved in the fight, citing privacy concerns. Vernon said that as far as she knows, the injured man left for Canada on May 30.
Repeated requests for comment from local police and the Bahia Principe Esmeralda resort in Punta Cana were not returned.