Springville, N.Y. – These words were on newscasts and in newspapers here in Western New York and on the Internet two years ago: “Local Olympian Darren Chiacchia has been arrested in Florida and charged with not telling his sexual partner that he was HIV positive.”by SCOTT BROWN WGRZ TV
It was January 20th of 2010 -a day and a date – that has been seared into Darren Chiacchia’s memory.
He had been branded with a three scarlet letters: H I V.
Darren Chiacchia: “My life was over as I knew it.”
Scott Brown: “Tell me what it was like to be brought in and have your mug shot taken and finger printed and all that?”
Darren Chiacchia: “It’s horrible, you are stripped of all dignity, it’s amazing.”
Chiacchia’s mug shot and news of his arrest were plastered all over the Internet.
In an instant, Darren Chiacchia’s identity had been changed.
Darren Chiacchia: “Think of being the Olympian in the room, and then think of the guy who’s spreading HIV. Then the stories that get repeated- ‘oh that’s the guy who gave the guy AIDS.’ First of all I don’t have AIDS, second of all this individual doesn’t have AIDS, he’s not even HIV positive. It has literally impacted every facet of my life.”
Over the years, Darren Chiacchia had turned himself into a brand – a very successful brand – involved in the breeding and selling of horses, teaching, and making endorsements. But as of Darren’s arrest last January, the Chiacchia brand was all but worthless.
Scott Brown: “These past two years, what has it cost you financially?”
Darren Chiacchia: “For sure the business has been 95 percent, you heard me, 95 percent. So imagine your salary being cut 95 percent, so that’s been huge, and in addition there’s been an effect on endorsements. I lost not all my endorsements, I have to say that some people really stood by me and that’s huge, but some key ones chose not to and that’s sad.”
And business was not the only thing that Darren Chiacchia lost.
Darren Chiacchia: “As you know I sit on a number of boards and committees and I’m forever cocktail parties, fundraisers, that’s just my life and the same lady that I would have hugged and kissed for the last 20 years suddenly pulls away from you? It’s a feeling you cannot describe.”
Chiacchia had been charged under a Florida law that was passed more 20 years ago at the height of hysteria over HIV and AIDS. Back then people believed you could get the disease from sweat or saliva.
Darren Chiacchia: “The laws and science have not kept in stride. These laws are still on the books in 20 states, in ten states you can look at ten years in prison for spitting on someone. It’s ridiculous.”
The charges were brought by a man that Chiacchia had been dating.
On the same morning that Chiacchia broke up with him, the man went to the police.
Scott Brown: “Was this nothing more than a bad breakup that caused all this?”
Darren Chiacchia: “Absolutely, absolutely. I sent him an e-mail that said enough’s enough. I sent the e-mail at 9:30, it was read at 9:35, the police report was filed at 10:00 a.m. What do you think, what do you think?”
Two months ago all charges against Darren Chiacchia were dropped.
A judge ruled that the Florida law that Darren was charged under pertained only to sex between a man and a woman.
Darren Chiacchia: “You’d think I’d be elated but in a way yes that this is over, but in a way it’s just the beginning of the foundation to rebuild my life. it’s a huge necessary first step, but it’s just a first step.”
Scott Brown: “Do you plan to take legal action against the person who brought the charges and the prosecutors in Florida?”
Darren Chiacchia: “Do I intend on seeking justice? Absolutely, absolutely.”
Scott Brown: “You’re opening up much of your personal life here, why did you agree to talk to us?”
Darren Chiacchia: “Because it’s my moment to get the truth out, I said from the very beginning I have the most wonderful thing on my side- it’s called the truth. What has happened to me really needs to be a wake up call to all of us. Because an accusation has now become, judge, jury and executioner. Do we want to live in a society where an accusation can destroy someone?”
Scott Brown: “How active do you think you’ll be become in the area of the law and false accusations?”
Darren Chiacchia: “As active as I can be. I’m talking to some groups out there that have this on their radar. This will be a strong focus in my life.”
Scott Brown: “After these two years, how do you go about getting your reputation back?”
Darren Chiacchia: “You know Scott, I don’t know if there’s any great answer to that. All I know is to do what I have done – I’m a great horseman and I have to remind myself sometimes I’m a world class athlete, that’s what I do that’s who I am.”
This isn’t the first time Darren Chiacchia has had to overcome some pretty high hurdles.
A few years ago, he was thrown from his horse during a competition and suffered life threatening injuries. He was in a coma for weeks.
The accident cost him a potential spot on the 2008 US Olympic team.
But now he’s full recovered and is pointing toward competing in next year’s Olympic games in London.
Darren Chiacchia: “When London won the bid I thought that’s got to be it. I actually thought the last Olympics was going to be my last hurrah, but with having to put that one on hold with the injury, I said I guess oh well I’m definitely in it for one more run at least.”
And so after a nearly a two year nightmare, Darren Chiacchia is riding high once again.
Darren Chiacchia: “At the end of the day I am fortunate enough to get out of bed everyday and pursue my passion. Not many people can say that, that alone is a huge gift.”
The state’s attorney office in Florida is appealing the dismissal of the charges against Chiacchia.