Judge allows defendants' access to some, but not all, records of beating victim

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PITTSFIELD — A judge has ruled that defense attorneys for a city police officer and another man accused in an violent assault can have access to the victim's medical records.

However, a request to see other documents, including the victim's substance use treatment records, was denied.

Judge Karen Goodwin issued the decision Friday in Superior Court in the cases of Michael McHugh and co-defendant Jason Labelle, accused of assaulting Michael Cebula of Dalton and then lying to authorities about it.

McHugh was off-duty from the Pittsfield Police Department the night of July 4, 2016, when the alleged assault took place. 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 Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.

Attorneys Timothy Shugrue and Timothy Burke, representing McHugh and Labelle respectively, sought Cebula's medical records, as well as records of any substance use treatment that he might have undergone.

The attorneys noted Cebula has claimed he suffered broken ribs and a fractured vertebrae as a result of the assault and claim medical records show that Cebula had previously been treated for both injuries before the night of the alleged attack.

Goodwin allowed access to Cebula's medical records between January 2013 and the night of the alleged assault, but denied access to medical records outside of those dates and further denied access to substance and/or alcohol use treatment records.

During a hearing last week, Burke said those records might indicate a relapse, a recurring pattern of drug abuse or an escalation of concerning behavior in the months leading up to the alleged assault.

First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne, brought in as a special prosecutor in the cases, said much of the information being sought was irrelevant.

Gagne 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 him and then lied about it to investigators.

According to court documents, Labelle told McHugh, who was off-duty at the time, that he and his family were being harassed by Cebula.

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The two spotted him pulling into a driveway about 10 p.m. and approached him. According to court documents, McHugh then pulled him from the truck and held him down while Labelle kicked and beat him.

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.

He was acquitted of the OUI charge in March 2018. The remaining charges were dismissed before trial.

McHugh, who somehow was tasked with writing the police report in the case despite being off-duty, also is accused of putting false information in that report. An internal affairs report conducted after the incident found issue with several of McHugh's descriptions of the night's events.

"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 Cebula by McHugh."

McHugh admitted to consuming four beers that day, according to the internal affairs report, which accused him of violating the department regulation that "off-duty officers shall not consume alcoholic beverages while carrying a department-issued firearm."

A motion to dismiss the charges against McHugh was denied.

Cebula recently filed a federal civil lawsuit against McHugh, Labelle and the city of Pittsfield, seeking unspecified damages.

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.

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

Pretrial hearings in the cases are expected early next week, and they are expected to go to trial in early September.

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


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