Lawyer for Pittsfield officer charged with off-duty assault seeks victim's medical records

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PITTSFIELD — The attorney for a city police officer accused of assaulting a man while off-duty and lying about it in his report is seeking medical information about the victim in the case.

Timothy Shugrue, representing Michael McHugh, has filed a series of discovery motions, including one seeking copies and test results of the victim's blood alcohol level from the night of his arrest.

Court documents say the victim's blood alcohol concentration at the time of his arrest was at least twice the legal limit to drive in Massachusetts.

In his motion, Shugrue said a blood analysis could provide further evidence beneficial to his client's case, though the motion was not specific about how that evidence would be applied.

McHugh, 43, has been on unpaid suspension from the department since Aug. 9, according to the city's attorney, Richard Dohoney. Prior to that, he had been on a paid administrative leave, which began on Sept. 9, 2016.

According to court documents and an internal investigation report obtained by The Eagle, McHugh was drinking while off-duty the night of July 4, 2016, when he and his friend Jason LaBelle tracked down the victim, who had allegedly been harassing LaBelle and his family.

At some point, McHugh allegedly took his service weapon, "activated himself as a police officer and took action," the report said.

Both men are accused of assaulting the victim before on-duty officers arrived, and then being untruthful about that night's events.

The victim ultimately was arrested on charges of drunken driving, possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and disturbing the peace. Blood was drawn from the victim at 3:23 a.m. and showed his blood alcohol level was 0.066; a level of 0.08 is the legal limit to drive a motor vehicle in Massachusetts.

In his defense motion, Shugrue noted a Berkshire Medical Center doctor computed what the level would have been at the time of the arrest about 10:10 p.m. about 0.16 or higher, based on a person's blood alcohol content decreasing by 0.02 percent per hour.

The man filed a citizen complaint in the case, which on Aug. 5, 2016, prompted an investigation conducted by Lt. Michael Winston.

Over the next month, investigators spoke with the victim, the other officers who responded that night, as well as the officers who guarded the victim while at the hospital, among others.

The resulting internal affairs report found fault with several aspects of McHugh's behavior and his account of events that night.

"Our initial investigation showed that events did not occur as Ofc. McHugh's arrest report ... described," it reads. "We believed that excessive force was used against (the victim) by McHugh."

It found that the victim's claim against McHugh was sustained, and that the officer violated rules and regulations including conduct unbecoming an officer, use of official position, truthfulness, criminal conduct, cooperation with investigations and falsifying records.

"It was unnecessary for McHugh to become involved in this incident," it reads. "If McHugh had stepped back and contacted the station himself, on-duty units would have been sent to the scene immediately to deal with [the victim]," part of the report reads.

McHugh has pleaded not guilty in Berkshire Superior Court to charges of assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a shod foot), misleading a police officer and making a false statement as a public employee.

LaBelle, 37, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, falsely reporting a crime, misleading a judge and misleading a clerk.

LaBelle's attorney, Timothy Burke, also has filed a series of discovery motions, including requests for medical evidence.

A full hearing on the motions is scheduled for Jan. 25 in Berkshire Superior Court.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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