By DANIEL KITTREDGE A Cranston Police officer has been convicted of simple assault in connection with a March 5, 2020, incident involving a man in police custody. Andrew Leonard, 46, was found guilty of the misdemeanor by District Court Magistrate J.
A Cranston Police officer has been convicted of simple assault in connection with a March 5, 2020, incident involving a man in police custody.
Andrew Leonard, 46, was found guilty of the misdemeanor by District Court Magistrate J. Patrick O’Neill immediately after closing arguments in the three-day trial, which was held at the Noel Judicial Complex in Warwick.
Prosecutors initially asked for Leonard’s one-year sentence to include 90 days to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions, with the remainder suspended with probation.
O’Neill instead imposed a one-year suspended sentence with probation – the same terms the state had offered, and the defense had rejected, before the proceedings began.
Leonard, a 12-year veteran of the Cranston Police Department who previously worked as a corrections officer, has been on paid suspension since his May 2020 arrest. With the conviction, he will no longer be paid. His attorney, Joseph Monahan, told O’Neill after the verdict that his client intends to appeal.
Addressing the parties after closing statements concluded, O’Neill called it a “sad case all around.”
He also said his close review of cell block video from the altercation at the heart of the case – in which Leonard is seen punching, kicking and taking the victim in the case, 27-year-old Gian Mattiello, to the ground – played a central role in his finding. Leonard, he said, was “taunting” Mattiello during the incident and “wanted to be in the face of Mr. Mattiello.”
“Sometimes you gain control of a situation by removing yourself from the situation,” he said. It was Mattiello and not Leonard, he said, who was clearly “more in control of the situation.”
The judge expressed skepticism over many aspects of Mattiello’s earlier accounting of events earlier in the proceedings, and acknowledged that the victim – who has a lengthy criminal record – had been “disrespectful, disruptive, rude most of the time” on the day in question.
From the time of the traffic stop that led to Mattiello’s arrest, he said, the victim had decided to “ruin everybody’s day who has to deal with this.” He also said a “cocky, arrogant” Mattiello clearly egged the officer on.
“[Mattiello] was under the skin of Mr. Leonard,” he said. “You can see it.” He spoke of a particular moment on the video, when Mattiello is without handcuffs during processing, as “go time.”
“Who’s going to speak first? Who’s going to light the fire again?” he said. “Andrew Leonard is the first one to reengage.”
O’Neill said the video shows Mattiello “catching a beating” and “covering up” as he seeks to disengage from the altercation.
There were “so many opportunities,” he added, “to have this not happen.”
O’Neill also said the testimony of two other officers who were present during the altercation was “at times gutwrenching.” While Leonard and the defense suggested the officers had failed to properly assist their colleague during the incident, the judge said their lack of participation highlighted the true nature of the assault.
“They’re not going to put their careers on the line to engage in this beatdown of a career criminal,” he said.
Monahan, in his closing statement, said Leonard had “found himself in a very difficult position.” The case, he said, focuses on “two people from opposite ends of the spectrum of society” – a longtime law enforcement officer with an unblemished record of service, and a career criminal whose struggles with substance abuse fuel his unlawful behavior.
“This is not a beat down. This is a struggle … My client was in a fight for his life,” he said.
Of the cell block video, Monahan added: “That’s the real life out there in the street. That can be ugly.”
Assistant Attorney General Daniel Guglielmo, meanwhile, used the state’s closing argument to characterize Leonard’s conduct as “completely out of line” and “illegal.”
“On this particular day … in that cell block, one of those two people acted better than the other,” he said. “One of those two people acted legally. And it was the convicted felon who acted legally.”
He added: “It’s a tough time to be a police officer, and we all appreciate that … However, public institutions should welcome that oversight.”
Guglielmo also said the other officers present at the time of the incident “wanted no part of it.” Leonard, he said, was “relishing this opportunity to give that punk what he’s asking for” and “picking the fight.”
“He’s slapping his hands together like he’s going to sit down to Thanksgiving day dinner,” he said.
The prosecutor additionally highlighted the “extremely rich” irony that the video of the cell block incident was reviewed – and then brought to the attention of Col. Michael Winquist, who it turn referred it Rhode Island State Police and the attorney general – because Leonard had pressed an assault case against Mattiello.
“The public,” he said, “demands a high standard of the police.”
Leonard, during his testimony, had defended his actions. He said he knew of Mattiello prior to March 5, 2020, but had not dealt with him one-on-one. Nor, he said, did he harbor any animosity toward Mattiello.
In the cell block at Cranston Police headquarters, Leonard said, Mattiello began to exhibit signs of an imminent assault – sometimes subtle clues he had learned through his years in law enforcement. Mattiello, he said, tensed up and flared his nostrils.
“In that moment, a lot of flags went off in my head that there was an imminent assault coming,” he said.
Leonard also asserted that Mattiello had grabbed hold of his duty belt, which included a flashlight, OC spray and other items but not his firearm.
Additionally, Leonard defended his expressions and manner as seen on the video while suggesting the other officers present during the incident had failed to provide needed assistance.
“If I was laughing, it was I couldn’t believe how ridiculous this was … wrestling somebody and nobody helping me,” he said.
He added: “In this instance, nobody helped me.”
Those officers, as well as Capt. Sean Parker, were called to testify during the prosecution’s presentation earlier in the trial.
Parker said he first viewed the cell block video roughly three weeks after the incident.
“I was immediately struck by the severity of it … The unreasonableness of the use of force, and the excessiveness,” he said. He testified that he immediately notified Winquist.
After the state’s case concluded, the defense made a motion for a dismissal of the charge against Leonard. O’Neill denied the motion, saying the testimony to that point warranted the continuation of the proceedings.
In a press release regarding the verdict, Attorney General Peter Neronha said: “I am grateful for the Court’s guilty verdict today, which was plainly warranted based on the evidence presented at trial. Police may use force in exercising their duty to protect the public, but that use of force must be reasonable and necessary under the circumstances. As the Court found, there was no need to use force here. The defendant invited conflict, apparently believing that his position as a police officer would shield him from the consequences of his actions. He was mistaken.”
He added: “Police officers have a difficult and often thankless job. They work hard to protect the public, and the vast majority serve honorably and well. However, when an officer fails to uphold his oath and uses excessive force against a member of the public, it is imperative that we take strong action to hold them appropriately accountable for such misconduct. I am grateful to the prosecution team, including the Rhode Island State Police, for their diligence in ensuring a successful prosecution in this important case. I am also grateful to Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist for immediately recognizing the defendant's misconduct at the time it occurred and bringing that misconduct to the attention of this Office and the State Police.”