Judge agrees to postpone assault trial involving Pittsfield ex-officer

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PITTSFIELD — A judge has agreed to postpone until November the assault trial of a police officer and another man so the defense can pursue information about the victim's behavior prior to the incident.

Suspended Pittsfield Police Officer Michael McHugh and Jason Labelle had been scheduled go on trial this week in Berkshire Superior Court on charges they assaulted Dalton resident Michael Cebula on July 4, 2016.

But during a hearing on Tuesday, McHugh's attorney, Timothy Shugrue, sought a delay in the case, citing the "late breaking discovery" of evidence that Cebula had been drinking for "several hours" prior to the incident.

Judge Michael Callan granted the motion for a continuance over the objections of the special prosecutor in the case, who called the information irrelevant.

In his motion, Shugrue noted that Cebula, who was acquitted of an OUI charge stemming from the same incident, testified at his trial that he had one drink that day — about 20 minutes before the 10 p.m. incident.

But, Shugrue said, there is evidence to indicate Cebula had been drinking for "several hours" that afternoon.

The motion sought more time to investigate the matter, and suggested Cebula might have committed perjury in his testimony.

Cebula's attorney in that case, William Barry, declined to comment Tuesday when reached by phone.

Steven Gagne, whom the DA has appointed to try the case against the men, argued that the case isn't about what Cebula did before his encounter with the men, but what happened after, when the defendants allegedly beat the man and then lied about it to investigators.

According to court documents, Labelle told McHugh he and his family were being harassed by Cebula.

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The two spotted Cebula pulling into a driveway on Cascade Street that night, and McHugh pulled Cebula from his truck and held him down while Labelle kicked and beat him, prosecutors allege.

Cebula was treated for fractured ribs, a fractured vertebra and other injuries, but attorneys for the men have raised questions about the source of those injuries.

Both defendants also are accused of providing police with false information in the case.

McHugh was off-duty from the police department the night of the incident. He was placed on suspension without pay in August 2017 following his indictment by a Berkshire County grand jury and a local civil service hearing, according to Police Chief Michael Wynn.

The request for a continuance is the latest in a recent series of motions in the case, including one seeking a change of venue amid concerns of pretrial publicity. That request was denied, but might be readdressed later.

Callan also rejected a motion seeking Cebula's cellphone records, describing the request as a "fishing expedition." He did, however, allow a defense motion seeking Cebula's medical records.

McHugh has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer and being a public employee making a false report. Labelle has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, falsely reporting a crime, misleading a judge and misleading a clerk.

Cebula has also filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking unspecified damages from the two men and the city.

The defendants remain free on personal recognizance with the condition they have no contact with Cebula.

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


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