Accused officer recounts arrest
PITTSFIELD -- Because the prisoner was covered with his own excrement from the middle of his back down to the back of his knees, former North Adams police officer Joshua Mantello felt he had fewer options in trying to restrain the drunk and combative man.
That was Mantello's testimony Tuesday in his own defense against charges that he assaulted the prisoner and filed a false report.
Defense attorney Thomas Drechsler played a video surveillance tape from the night in question of the booking area at the North Adams Police Department, pausing the image at several points to ask Mantello about his actions.
Mantello told Drechsler that he didn't pat down the alleged victim, Matthew Trombley, at the North Church Street scene where he had caused a disturbance by kicking doors and defecating on a welcome mat.
His training indicating that he should avoid touching bodily fluids to prevent exposure to potentially infectious diseases, Mantello noted.
But while driving to police headquarters and in the booking area, Trombley became combative, consistently resisting their efforts to check in his personal property, get his fingerprints and take his booking picture, the former officer said.
"And there were less hands-on options to use at that point because of possible bio-hazardous filth all over his back," Mantello testified.
While playing the video, the screen was facing the judge, away from the gallery. But those in attendance could clearly hear the screaming, the cursing and the officers urging Trombley to comply with their orders.
Trombley can be heard repeatedly saying "That's not cool, that's not cool," in response to the efforts to restrain him, and a one point screaming repeatedly.
Drechsler had Mantello explain what the judge was seeing -- that Trombley was trying to turn toward the officers restraining him, in an increasingly combative way, at one point turning and attempting to kick Mantello, grazing the inside of the officer's knee.
At that point, Mantello said, the prisoner could be classified as "assaultive," which justifies a more intense series of tactics to subdue him -- including the use of a baton or Taser.
"You wrote in your report that he kicked you," Drechsler said. "Why did you write that in your report?"
"Because it happened," Mantello said.
"Why did you bring him down [to the floor]," Drechsler asked.
"He was assaulting me," Mantello said.
On the video, Mantello could be heard cursing at the prisoner, threatening to charge him with everything he could. After Trombley calmed down for a moment, they took off one handcuff to continue the booking process, but he became agitated again.
Mantello forced Trombley to the floor, because "he was very much trying to get away from us."
Drechsler asked Mantello why he struck Trombley in the head three times with the heel of his hand.
"He was being assaultive, pulling away and attempting to assault the other officers," Mantello said. "I didn't have the time to grab a Taser -- I thought it was the quickest way to subdue him."
"Did you ever attempt to more force than was necessary to bring him under control," Drechsler asked.
"No sir," Mantello replied.
"Did you ever attempt to use the wall or the floor as a dangerous weapon," the attorney asked.
"No sir," was the reply.
Mantello said the three officers were unable to get Trombley into a holding cell until after they used a "dry-stun" Taser on him.
During the prosecution's cross examination, Berkshire First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello tried to establish that Mantello had already formed an opinion of Trombley from previous contact and rumors circulated in the law enforcement community.
He also tried to show that Trombley was reacting to animosity exhibited by Mantello.
In a contentious exchange, Caccaviello asked Mantello about alleged omissions from his incident report.
"There is nothing in that report about striking him in the head three times, is there sir," Caccaviello asked.
"No sir," Mantello replied.
"Nothing in the report about you calling him a stupid piece of [expletive], is there sir?"
"Is there anything in the report about you pulling his hair to take his picture, is there sir?"
"As an officer for eight years, you know that you will encounter people at their worst and you have to be at your best. Is it your testimony that you were at your best that night," Caccaviello concluded.
"Yes sir," Mantello said.
Mantello, 30, a member of the department for six years and an auxiliary officer for two years before that, was fired in March at the conclusion of a criminal investigation.
Mantello is on trial for two counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, one count of assault and battery, one count of witness intimidation, and one count of filing a false police report about the incident.
Mantello waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead to allow Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini to make the final judgment in the case.
Trombley, 29, was arrested on Thanksgiving night, Nov. 28, 2008, after officers responding to a disturbance call discovered the intoxicated Trombley outside a North Church Street apartment.
Trombley initially was charged with assault and disorderly conduct. Those charges were eventually dropped after a Massachusetts State Police investigation led to Mantello's indictment.
Agostini scheduled final arguments for Monday afternoon.
To reach Scott Stafford: email@example.com or (413) 496-6241.
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