Dalton man sues Pittsfield over officer's alleged off-duty attack
SPRINGFIELD — A Dalton man who was allegedly assaulted by an off-duty Pittsfield police officer and another man in 2016 has filed a federal lawsuit in the case.
The suit, which was filed July 2 in U.S. District Court in Springfield on behalf of Michael Cebula, names the the city of Pittsfield, police Officer Michael McHugh and Jason Labelle as defendants.
It claims violations of Cebula's civil rights, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution, among others. Cebula is seeking unspecified damages.
Pittsfield City Solicitor Stephen N. Pagnotta said via email Friday afternoon that the city has not been served with the complaint.
"When we receive the complaint, we will review it," he said. "We have no comment at this time."
McHugh and Labelle face criminal charges in connection with the July 4, 2016, incident, and final pretrial hearings in those cases are expected later this month. McHugh remains suspended without pay.
According to the suit, McHugh, who was off-duty at the time, pulled Cebula from his truck and identified himself as a police officer. He then forced him to the ground and immobilized him while Labelle repeatedly kicked him in the head and midsection, causing Cebula to lose consciousness.
On-duty officers arrived and, "despite (Cebula's) severe personal injuries, request for medical assistance, and period of unconsciousness, (Cebula) was required to undergo field sobriety tests," the suit says.
Several photos of what appears to be severe bruising on Cebula's body were included with the court filings.
After booking, Cebula was transported to Berkshire Medical Center, where he remained for about eight days for treatment of fractured ribs, a fractured vertebrae and other injuries, the suit says.
Cebula was charged with several offenses, including operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, disturbing the peace and possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.
The suit alleges McHugh deliberately falsified some or all of the allegations in the police report that led to those criminal charges.
Cebula was acquitted of the OUI charge in March 2018. The remaining charges were dismissed before trial.
McHugh and Labelle were both indicted by a Berkshire County grand jury on multiple charges, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
McHugh was also charged with filing a false report, and Labelle was charged with misleading a clerk magistrate and a judge.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said McHugh was suspended without pay on Aug. 8, 2017, following his grand jury indictment and a local civil service hearing. He had previously been on paid administrative leave.
According to court documents, LaBelle had told McHugh, who was off duty at the time, that he and his family were being harassed by Cebula.
The two spotted Cebula pulling into a driveway in his truck about 10 p.m. and approached him, leading to the alleged assault.
A motion to dismiss the charges against McHugh was denied.
McHugh's attorney, Timothy Shugrue, argued the grand jury did not receive crucial information before making its decision — including Cebula's level of intoxication at the time of the incident.The man's blood was drawn at the hospital at about 3:23 a.m. the next day, and it showed a blood alcohol level of 0.066, below the legal limit of 0.08 to operate a motor vehicle.
Shugrue contended that the man's blood alcohol level at the time he pulled into the driveway could have been as high as 0.16 and called into question his credibility as a witness.
Judge John Agostini, who denied the motion, said there was other, more vivid evidence to illustrate Cebula's level of sobriety given to the grand jury than a blood alcohol level would indicate.
"Even if Cebula was as intoxicated as the reports indicated, it does not give license to administer a severe beating to an individual," Agostini wrote in his seven-page decision. "This evidence may be grounds to arrest him or have him hospitalized ... but not to, `teach him a lesson.'"
The federal suit also alleges that, despite being off-duty and not being the arresting officer, McHugh was tasked with writing the police report that implicated Cebula.
Further, the suit alleges possible exculpatory evidence in Cebula's case was "lost, mishandled and/or not preserved," which undermined Cebula's version of events.
As of Friday afternoon, no next dates in the federal case had been set.
McHugh and Labelle are due in Berkshire Superior Court on Thursday for final pretrial hearings in their cases.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
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