Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Former Officer Joshua Mantello Found Guilty of Assaulting Intoxicated Man

A former North Adams police officer has been found guilty of assaulting an intoxicated man who was placed in police custody after defecating on a welcome mat last year.

Joshua N. Mantello, 30, will receive probation and a six-month jail term when he is sentenced Friday in Berkshire Superior Court. He is free on personal recognizance until then.

Mantello punched and choked Matthew D. Trombley, 29, then filed a false police report about the Nov. 28, 2008, incident in North Adams, according to prosecutors.

Mantello, an eight-year veteran of the North Adams Police Department, was fired by Mayor John Barrett III in March after a criminal investigation led to the officer's criminal indictment.

Trombley, a known heroin user, was highly intoxicated and covered in his own feces when Mantello and other North Adams officers tried to subdue him after a disturbance outside of a North Church Street apartment last year.

Trombley banged on people's doors and defecated on a welcome mat, and somehow wound up covered in his own waste, according to testimony in Mantello's weeklong Superior Court bench trial, which concluded Monday.

That's when Judge John A. Agostini found Mantello guilty of two counts of assault and battery and single counts of misleading a police officer and filing a false police report.

Agostini ordered Mantello to serve six months of a two-year sentence in the Berkshire

County Jail & House of Correction. The balance of that sentence will be suspended if Mantello stays out of trouble.

Mantello was found not guilty of one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon -- a stun gun.

Agostini agreed to a request by defense counsel Thomas Drechsler to delay sentencing until Friday, giving Mantello time to wrap up loose ends before he goes to jail.

Berkshire First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello recommended that Agostini consider sending Mantello to prison for up to four years, but the judge rejected that recommendation.

"I do not believe state prison would at all be appropriate in this case," Agostini said.

Mantello opted for a jury-waived trial, leaving his fate with Agostini, who acknowledged the trial was a "very, very difficult case."

Agostini said he did not believe Mantello went to work on Nov. 28, 2008, with the intent of injuring someone or committing a crime. But evidence presented during the trial showed that Trombley was heavily intoxicated and that Mantello used excessive force in subduing him.

Agostini said Trombley was confused, incoherent and uncooperative during the booking process at the North Adams Police Department. Nonetheless, Trombley's unruly behavior did not justify Mantello's harsh treatment, Agostini said.

Trombley's booking was videotaped, per departmental policy on all bookings, and highlights of that process were shown again during Monday's closing arguments.

"Each time I see it, I find it very disturbing," Agostini said of the videotape. "There seems to be no legitimate reason for these punches to be thrown."

The tape shows Mantello using foul language toward Trombley -- who is visibly intoxicated -- and pushing the man's head against the booking-room wall. The tape also shows Mantello striking Trombley three times, though Drechsler claimed the blows were delivered with the officer's palm -- not a closed fist.

The defense attorney said Trombley's screams were the tacticsof "a consummate faker," someone intent on causing a scene, while Caccaviello claimed they were the result of Trombley being "severely assaulted."

During the trial, Drechsler referred to Trombley as a "feces-encrusted" biohazard who was so dirty and disobedient that Mantello was the only officer courageous enough to subdue him.

Mantello was prompted to use force against Trombley after Trombley assaulted the officer, according to Drechsler. When the booking tape is played in slow motion, he said, it shows Trombley kick at Mantello.

As a result, Mantello can be heard telling Trombley that he would be charged with assaulting a police officer. Various charges lodged against Trombley were dropped after Mantello was criminally charged.

The prosecutor said Mantello engaged in "shading the facts" when he stated things in his police report that were not evident during the 15-minute booking video.

Caccaviello used a book-vs.-movie analogy, claiming the movie version of events (the videotape) bore no resemblance to the book version of events (Mantello's written report). The incidents described in Mantello's report simply did not match the video evidence, Caccaviello said.

Drechsler claimed that Trombley -- who has virtually no recollection of the events due to his level of intoxication -- was not seriously injured in the incident.

Rather, he said, it was Mantello who risked injury when he attempted to control an unruly subject covered in bodily fluids that posed a health threat, including the possible transmission of Hepatitis C or HIV.

The government's attempt to turn Trombley into "some sort of a hero" is antithetical to who he really was -- a drug user with a criminal past, Drechsler said.

Drechsler insisted that Trombley upped the ante by continually refusing to comply with police orders, while Mantello attempted to defuse the tense situation.

"Somebody had to do something, and Josh Mantello was the only one who did something," Drechsler said, noting that another officer was overcome by Trombley's stench and had to desert his post to vomit.

Caccaviello did not attempt to sugar-coat Trombley's character, but said Mantello exacerbated matters by screaming obscenities at Trombley, who appeared relatively docile in the booking tape.

"I'm not saying [Trombley's] an angel," Caccaviello said. "But it's the defendant who's the professional."

The tape contains no evidence of Trombley hitting, punching, kicking or spitting at Mantello, who deliberately falsified his written report to cover up his wrongdoing, Caccaviello said.

"He had to mislead his superiors," Caccaviello said.

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