Trial begins in alleged assault by police officer

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PITTSFIELD — A Dalton man who has accused two others, including a city police officer, of assault is a "seriously flawed" person and has made a lot of bad decisions in his life, a special prosecutor in the case said Wednesday.

But that doesn't mean Michael Cebula deserved the beating he got more than three years ago, Steven Gagne said during his opening statement in Berkshire Superior Court.

Gagne was brought in to try the cases of Michael McHugh and Jason Labelle. Cebula claims that the two men pulled him out of a truck the night of July 4, 2016, beat him and then lied about it. McHugh is a Pittsfield Police Officer who was off-duty at the time and Labelle is Cebula's estranged son in-law.

Attorneys Timothy Shugrue and Timothy Burke, representing McHugh and Labelle, respectively, said it's Cebula who has been lying consistently about the events of that night, including how much he'd had to drink.

At the time of the incident and Cebula's arrest on an operating under the influence charge, he maintained he'd had one drink, despite having a blood alcohol concentration about twice the .08 legal limit.

About six weeks ago, during an interview with investigators, Cebula admitted he had been drinking that afternoon and had consumed more drinks than he'd first said, but couldn't say exactly how many.

Both Shugrue and Burke seized on Cebula's lies in their opening statements on Wednesday. "The Commonwealth is putting their faith on a liar," Shugrue said, arguing Cebula was stalking and harassing his family and McHugh took steps to ensure their safety and the well-being of the neighborhood.

"He's been lying since day one to save his own skin" Shugrue said.

Gagne acknowledged Cebula was not truthful about how much he'd drank that day and told jurors when he eventually takes the stand and undergoes cross-examination by Shugrue and Burke, it will be a "bloodbath."

"He is going to get shredded to pieces," Gagne said.

Burke said Gagne was trying to minimize the significance of Cebula lying under oath and said the indictments were issued on perjured testimony.

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Cebula had become estranged from Labelle's family and was not welcome at the residence, Gagne said.

Despite that, while apparently intoxicated, he decided to drive through Labelle's neighborhood about 9:15 p.m. July 4, 2016.

Gagne said Labelle chased Cebula's truck and called police to let them know Cebula was in the neighborhood and not welcome and asked officers to talk to him.

Cebula apparently returned to the neighborhood about 10 p.m. and was confronted by Labelle and McHugh. The pair are accused of forcibly removing Cebula from the truck and administering a beating that put him in the hospital for a week with seven fractured ribs and a broken vertebrae.

Shugrue said that as the result of a restraining order, Cebula was required to surrender his firearms. He said Cebula also lied about the number of guns he owned and said of the eight that were eventually identified, one was never found.

Shugrue said that missing weapon lent itself to the fear the Cebula may still be in possession of it while he was driving in the neighborhood.

Judge John Agostini, who is presiding over the case, recently denied a motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds of Cebula's apparent perjury, noting prosecutors already had presented "substantial" evidence that Cebula was intoxicated when he was arrested on July 4, 2016, and that the reliability of Cebula's anticipated testimony was for jurors to decide.

McHugh was placed on suspension without pay in August 2017 after his indictment by a Berkshire County grand jury and a local civil service hearing, according to Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.

He 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.

Testimony resumes Thursday morning. The trial is expected to continue into next week.

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


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