GREENSBURG, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez, facing multiple charges of sexually assaulting a minor, testified Tuesday that police officers lied last year when they said he confessed to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Vazquez, speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest almost a year ago, also testified at his preliminary hearing that he asked numerous times to speak to an attorney when questioned by Pennsylvania and Florida law enforcement officials but was told he could not. Police have said Vazquez willingly cooperated and never asked to speak to an attorney until after he was arrested.
Vazquez, 29, is seeking to dismiss all evidence collected by Pennsylvania State Police and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers on Sept. 17, 2019, when he was interviewed and eventually arrested. He has been held without bond since that time. A ruling on the motion isn't expected until late this year.
Police from the two states approached Vazquez in coordination after the parents of the girl alerted authorities about explicit photos and text messages they found on her phone. Pennsylvania State Police interviewed Vazquez first while Florida officials waited outside Vazquez's apartment building but said they did not give him a Miranda warning about his right to refuse cooperation or seek counsel because they never had him under arrest.
During their visit, Pennsylvania authorities executed a search warrant and took Vazquez's phone, laptop and clothes that they had seen in images from the girl's phone. Police testified they did not record or take notes during their conversation with Vazquez.
After the Pennsylvania investigators left, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials knocked on Vazquez's door and conducted their own interview. The Florida officials recorded their interview with Vazquez but said they were not recording when they informed Vazquez of his rights. Vazquez said he was never Mirandized.
Judge Scott O. Mears now has to decide whether he believes Vazquez or the officers. If Mears grants the motion, any material collected from Vazquez's apartment, laptop or phone, as well as his confession, would be dismissed. Prosecutors still would be able to rely on photos and video provided by the girl, along with her testimony.
Vazquez is facing charges in the same case in Florida and Missouri.
Vazquez's attorneys have said they will fight the charges, and they signaled at a previous hearing they plan to argue that the girl showed Vazquez an ID that indicated she was at least 18.
During Tuesday's hearing, Vazquez and Pennsylvania state trooper Michael Thompson, the lead investigator for the commonwealth, gave drastically different accounts of their meeting almost a year ago.
Thompson testified that:
• He and another trooper knocked on Vazquez's apartment door at 7:40 a.m. in a "normal" manner and told Vazquez that they needed to discuss something private, and Vazquez invited them in.
• Vazquez never asked to call the Pirates or an attorney, and he volunteered to show troopers lewd photos and videos from the girl on his laptop.
• Vazquez was "free to go" at any time.
• Vazquez admitted to driving to the girl's house on one occasion and having intercourse with her.
Vazquez, wearing his blue prison togs and bound by handcuffs and leg restraints, had to be reminded to speak up numerous times by his attorney, Gary Gerson, and Judge Mears. Under Vazquez's telling:
• The troopers banged loudly on his door, scaring him from the start.
• He did not invite troopers in -- he testified that he hid marijuana before opening the door and didn't want them inside -- and that they "pushed" their way into his apartment.
• He asked to call the Pirates for legal help "six or seven times," as he had been instructed since he first signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, but was not allowed.
• He never felt that he could leave, and he stayed in part because the Pennsylvania troopers told him he was going to be arrested by Florida authorities.
• He did not voluntarily give investigators access to his laptop and only did so because he was afraid of them.
• He never met the girl in person or had sex with her.
Westmoreland County assistant district attorney James Lazar asked Vazquez if he was calling Thompson and two other officers who previously swore statements against him liars.
"I don't want to call anybody a liar. I'm just saying what happened," Vazquez said.
When Lazar pressed him and said if Vazquez was telling the truth then the police had to be lying, Vazquez responded, "If that's the case, yeah."
During portions of Vazquez's testimony, Trooper Thompson shook his head.
Vazquez, who moved to the United States from Venezuela in 2011, said his awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence against Black people was in the forefront of his mind when he agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Vazquez, who is Black, said he grew up afraid of "corrupt" police in Venezuela and that he had a cousin who was shot in the back while trying to flee police. He said he has heard about police violence against Black people in the United States since arriving, both from media and his Black teammates, although he never experienced it personally.
"Ever since I got here, I hear in the news and all that stuff that Black people getting shot," he said. "I got tattoos, and I look like a Black guy."
One curious subplot to the hearing was Vazquez's ability to spell his last name. Vazquez's last name was Rivero until April 2018, when he said he changed it to Vazquez to match that of his half sister.
When he was sworn in Tuesday and asked to spell "Vazquez" for the record, he said he could not. Lazar questioned how that was possible when he had been signing autographs with that name and using it in official documents since he changed it. Judge Mears, taking notes during the entire hearing, asked Vazquez when he had changed it and noted that the pitcher had used the name for nearly two full seasons before he was arrested.
The issue over Vazquez's ability to spell the name had no obvious legal significance, but Lazar offered it as a sign that Vazquez's general testimony was not credible.
Vazquez's attorneys have until Oct. 15 to file a brief supporting their motion, and the district attorney's office has until Nov. 16 to respond.
The trial, which had been scheduled for later this month, might not begin until late 2020 or early 2021.