Accused Pittsfield fire captain released amid conflicting accounts of alleged assault
PITTSFIELD — A city fire captain accused of assaulting a woman and causing a severe concussion was released on Friday after the state failed to persuade a judge he was a danger or a flight risk.
Jeffrey Rawson, 56, of Hinsdale, had been in custody since his arrest Tuesday amid allegations he slammed the woman's head into the side of his boat and punched her while on his boat at Onota Lake.
But during a dangerousness hearing in Central Berkshire District Court, the woman testified that she has no memory of the incident or how she received her injuries, including a concussion, cuts to her face and a lump on the back of her head.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Katy Innes said the case was "not as strong as it will eventually be" and it was "only going to get stronger" as the woman's memory improves and the investigation continues.
Rawson's attorney, Mark T. Brennan, described the state's case against his client as, "very, very weak."
Brennan said the woman was injured when she fell in the parking lot at the lake's boat ramp.
During the hearing, Brennan asked the woman if she would have lunch with Rawson if he invited her, to which she replied "yes."
That tone differs sharply from the testimony of Pittsfield Police Officer Cheryl Callahan, who responded to the lake Tuesday night and spoke with the woman at the scene.
According to her testimony and the report she filed about the incident, Callahan described the woman as "one of the most afraid" people she's seen.
The woman repeated several times that Rawson would hurt her and feared the police would not be able to help her or protect her.
Callahan said the woman told her Rawson had hit her head against the boat and punched her after telling him their relationship was over.
In her testimony Friday, the woman said they had ended their dating relationship earlier this year, but they remained friends.
The woman passed out while being interviewed by Callahan, who caught her, and was transported to Berkshire Medical Center for treatment.
She said she was diagnosed with a severe concussion and still had double-vision in one eye Friday.
When asked by Brennan about the inconsistencies in the woman's statements, Callahan said she could only testify to what she was told. But she said because of her fear, anxiety and the onset of a concussion, it could have been up to 45 minutes before succumbing to her injuries and passing out, which may have affected her memory.
Callahan also testified she did not personally examine Rawson's boat and was not aware whether there was blood in it.
While at the hospital, the woman exchanged a series of text messages with Rawson, which were entered into evidence.
In those messages, the woman wrote, "Why are they saying you hit me? WTF! This is nuts," and "People say you pushed me."
Rawson replied via text, "I did not push you. I ran back to you when I heard you hit the pavement."
In those texts, Rawson also denied allegations of prior assaultive behavior.
"I believe u," the woman replied.
"(They're) all against (you). Said you did it," she wrote. "I told them noooooooooo way," and she described the incident as "a stupid fireball night."
The pair had been drinking Fireball whiskey "shot-for-shot" while on the water, she said in court.
Rawson asked if she would testify in court on his behalf, to which she agreed, texting that, "this is being blown way out (of proportion)."
She said she left the hospital against medical advice in order to keep an important appointment she felt she couldn't miss.
In arguing for Rawson's detention, Innes said asking the woman to testify for him was an example of "controlling behavior" and described his alleged actions as "blind rage."
In a followup interview with Callahan after leaving the hospital, the woman said even after the pair broke up, Rawson continued to pursue her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable, including "constant" calling and texting and claims Rawson would, "show up wherever she was" when she went out somewhere.
In her report, Callahan said the woman didn't appear to have injuries to her hands, knees or elbows that would have indicated a fall.
The woman also testified Friday about an April 29 incident in which Rawson allegedly refused to let her out of his car when he was giving her a ride to her home, telling her if she got out of the car they were done. She said he called her the next day.
She was also concerned about how Rawson's gun wound up in the back seat of her vehicle and why she woke up without her bra or underwear, according to Callahan's report.
She told Callahan she found her bra in the backseat of her car, where police found Rawson's gun at the time of his arrest Tuesday night.
Rawson also was charged with improper storage of a firearm and being an intoxicated licensee carrying a firearm.
Innes said Rawson exhibited "irrational behavior" following his arrest by not asking after the woman's condition — despite his claim he was administering first aid — and asking about the status of his firearms license and job instead.
As of Friday afternoon, Rawson is still employed by the city, according to Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski. He also serves as an intelligence officer with the Naval Reserve, Brennan said.
Innes said Rawson didn't call for help himself, but instead "threw her" into the back of her car with a gun.
Judge William Rota pointed out that it would have been illegal for Rawson to leave his weapon behind unattended in his own vehicle.
Innes asked for Rota to hold Rawson for 120 days without bail as dangerous. Brennan countered by suggesting personal recognizance, noting there was no, "clear and concise evidence of an assault and battery."
Rota determined Rawson was not a flight risk and imposed several conditions of his release, including orders to stay away from the woman and have no contact with her and not possess any firearms.
"If her house is on fire, you are not to go there," Rota warned.
The woman had begun the process of filing for a restraining order against Rawson, but said she was satisfied with the release conditions Rota imposed.
A pretrial hearing was scheduled for July 19.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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