GPD: Man mistakes disabled vet's wheelchair as costume, assaults him


Daniel Priotti is shown in these photos from his Facebook page. The photo on the right is from Halloween, when Gainesville police say the Army veteran who uses a wheelchair was assaulted.

Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 2:53 p.m.

Paralyzed U.S. Army veteran Daniel Priotti has worn a uniform to celebrate Halloween for years with no problem.

But trouble struck -- at the hands of a Marine veteran in a pink tutu -- early Thursday morning at the Pita Pit restaurant at 1702 W. University Ave.



"I was in line waiting for food, and the next thing I know I'm holding my jaw because it hurt. My jaw and neck are still hurting," Priotti said Thursday afternoon. "I'm totally shocked that somebody would just come up to me and knock me out. The guy is an idiot. It is unbecoming of a Marine."

The guy to whom Priotti referred is Christopher Dabney, who police say took offense at what Priotti was wearing — a uniform while in a wheelchair — and attacked Priotti in the restaurant at about 2:20 a.m.

Dabney, 22, of 111 NW 16th St., Apt. A3, was charged with abuse of the disabled, according to an arrest report.

Attempts to reach Dabney were unsuccessful.

Both Priotti and witness Alejandro Lemoine of Gainesville said the assault was unprovoked.

Lemoine added that Dabney began walking away after the assault before Lemoine and others stopped him.

"As he was leaving I stopped him and said, man, you have to own up to this. You just hit a handicapped person twice. You made him fall over," Lemoine told The Sun. "Another guy came out — there were enough people that he didn't get away with it."

People were out for Halloween when Dabney saw Priotti, 35, in the wheelchair in line at Pita Pit.

Police reports state that Dabney hit Priotti twice, knocking him out of the chair.

Lemoine said Dabney, who was wearing a pink tutu for Halloween, began calling Priotti a fake and then assaulted him.

"He was out cold. He was not responsive for at least 10 seconds. His eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling out cold," Lemoine said. "It was really sad. I couldn't fall asleep. I felt anger."

Lemoine said that a Pita Pit employee jumped over the counter to try to stop the action.

Priotti told The Sun he served in the Army from 1996-98 and was paralyzed in an accident about 10 years ago that was not military-related.

A home and pool contractor in Palm Coast, Priotti said he moved to Gainesville last year to get a construction management degree from Santa Fe College. He is now enrolled at SFC.

Priotti said he has friends who are still in the Army from whom he gets uniforms, adding he usually wears one for Halloween.

Priotti said he had not seen Dabney in Pita Pit before the incident. He said his girlfriend told him that Dabney started yelling at him for wearing a uniform and then hit him.

"(Dabney) should be stripped of being allowed to be called a Marine. I've been through airborne school and know Marines very well. That is not something a Marine does — they have more self-control," Priotti said. "I could see him saying something to me first — ‘Aw man, that's messed up being dressed as a disabled veteran' — and then I could say that I really am a disabled veteran."

Priotti was taken to Shands at the University of Florida for tests and got home around 7 a.m.

As Priotti sees it, appropriate punishment for Dabney would not be jail.

"Community service — a lot of it," Priotti said. "I think the guy should have 2,000 hours of community service working with the disabled."

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