PITTSFIELD -- A Ghanian national who prosecutors said nearly bit off his roommate's thumb during a dispute about "bathroom etiquette" is being held on $100 bail on two felony charges.
When Pittsfield police arrived at a Summer Street apartment at about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday for a reported domestic disturbance the door was answered by a nude man whose thumb "appeared to be severed and hanging on by a small piece of skin." The 61-year-old man told them he had been cut and that there was a man in the back of the apartment with a knife.
Police officers drew their guns and began to search the apartment. They noticed that the bathroom "clearly showed signs of a bloody fight" and found Michael T. Mensah, 57, in the back bedroom lying on a mattress and complaining about being in pain, according to a police report.
Police said Mensah didn't have a knife and had sustained facial injuries; his white T-shirt was covered in blood.
According to the report, police pieced together that an argument had ensued between the two men after the complaining witness came into the bathroom to shave his head with clippers while Mensah was using the toilet. The roommate called Mensah a "bush man" and the argument turned physical.
Both men have different versions of what happened. Mensah said his roommate jumped on him, knocking him into the bathtub, and shoved his thumb into his mouth and that was how the man's thumb was injured.
The roommate said Mensah began punching him in the head, hit him with the clippers and then latched onto his thumb when he put his hands up to protect his face. Mensah denied hitting the man with clippers.
Both men were taken to Berkshire Medical Center for their injuries. The complaining witness had the portion of his thumb that had been bitten through removed and he and the digit were sent to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester for further treatment.
Police said the men were working locally under assumed names and that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was contacted.
On Wednesday in Central District Berkshire Court, Mensah pleaded not guilty to felony aggravated assault and battery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
His attorney, Thomas C. Doyle, said his client's roommate had been the aggressor and Mensah acted in self-defense. He said his client had no criminal record and had been working here and sending money to his family back in Ghana.
Anne Hutchinson, a nurse practitioner employed by the state, told the court she has known Mensah and his family for more than 20 years ever since she was in the Peace Corps working in that country.
She said he has been living in Pittsfield for about five years.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert Royce asked that Mensah be held on $2,500 cash bail, citing the defendant's immigration status and the "disturbing facts" of the case.
Judge Paul M. Vrabel initially planned to release Mensah on personal recognizance, but when it was discovered ICE issued a detainer request on the defendant, the judge placed $100 bail on him.
He is being held at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction. He is due back in court on Feb. 19.
Because of the ICE detainer Mensah will likely end up in federal custody following the resolution of the case.
It was unclear whether the complaining witness will end up in federal custody as well.
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