Trial begins in officer's assault case

Posted 5/5/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE An "unacceptable escalation" and a "breach of authority," or a "reasonable" use of force in a violent circumstance? Attorneys for the state and for a Cranston Police officer charged in connection with his alleged assault on a man in

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Trial begins in officer's assault case


An “unacceptable escalation” and a “breach of authority,” or a “reasonable” use of force in a violent circumstance?

Attorneys for the state and for a Cranston Police officer charged in connection with his alleged assault on a man in police custody presented their opening arguments Tuesday in Warwick’s Third Division District Court, followed by testimony from state witnesses.

Andrew Leonard, 46, was placed on paid leave in May following his arrest by Rhode Island State Police on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault. According to the formal criminal complaint, he is charged with assaulting 27-year-old Gian Mattiello on March 5, 2020.

At the time of the arrest, State Police said their use-of-force investigation was completed at the request of Cranston Chief of Police Michael Winquist.

Reached Tuesday, Winquist said the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, or LEOBOR, preventing him from offering any comment on the proceedings or Leonard’s current status.

“We’re monitoring, obviously, the result of the trial … I pride myself on being transparent, but LEOBOR prevents me from making any comment,” the chief said.

Cranston Director of Personnel Dan Parrillo on Tuesday said Leonard has been employed with Cranston Police for 12 years and five months.

Opening arguments and testimony outlined the same basic chain of events on the date of the alleged assault.

It began with a traffic stop in the area of Phenix and Atwood avenues, the result of an investigation into a domestic violence incident in which Mattiello was a suspect.

During the course of the stop, which resulted in an arrest, one or two iPhones belonging to Mattiello were damaged. Later, at Cranston Police headquarters, Leonard and Mattiello are said to have engaged in a physical altercation during the booking process. That incident was captured on cell block video, which was later played during Mattiello’s testimony.

During opening statements, Special Assistant Attorney General Robert Johnson, addressing Magistrate Patrick J. O’Neill, said the circumstances of the alleged assault resulted from a “routine arrest” that “became much, much more.”

“This case does not involve a split-second decision … This case does not involve a weapon,” he said. Nor does it involve “nearly a single plausible element of any danger” to the officers involved, he said.

Johnson said there was “no plausible reason” for the incident at the heart of the charge – a confrontation in which he alleged that Leonard delivered five punches to Mattiello, as well as “two takedowns, one of which was a body slam, and one knee to the ribcage.”

The prosecutor also asserted that the actions of two other officers who were present during the incident reflect the “disparity” in Leonard’s conduct.

“They found a different way to deal with it,” he said, and did not respond “as though a fellow officer was in danger.”

Johnson told the judge that based on the state’s case, there would be “no question that there was another way to handle it.”

Referring to the cell block footage of the incident, he added: “Your honor will be able to see, in living color, the actions of this defendant.”

Attorney Joseph Monaghan, representing Leonard, painted a very different pictured of the incident. The circumstances surrounding the case, he said, share “one common thread … and that’s one of violence and lack of respect for the law” on Mattiello’s part.

A review of court records and police logs shows multiple prior arrests for Mattiello – who has no relation to the former District 15 representative and House speaker of the same last name – and Mattiello himself acknowledged his criminal record during testimony on Tuesday.

Monaghan said Leonard and other officers involved in the March 5 arrest were “well aware” of Mattiello’s record and reputation. He asserted that Mattiello’s belief that Leonard had “purposefully destroyed his phone” during the arrest fueled his anger, leading him to threaten the officer.

“You better be ready for me, I’m going to kick your [expletive],” Monaghan quoted Mattiello as telling Leonard.

The defense attorney said the cell block video of the incident, while without audio, would “speak 1,000 words.”

“The whole struggle here,” he said, “was to get the cuffs on [Mattiello].” He said during the incident, Mattiello – who he described as “very strong” – was reaching for the officer’s duty belt, which contained a flashlight and pepper spray. He also said the video shows Mattiello ceased struggling once he was handcuffed.

“Our defense of this is, the force used by the police officer in this case, based on the circumstances known to him … was reasonable,” said Monaghan, who is joined by attorney Gary Gentile from the International Brotherhood of Police Officers in representing Leonard.

The roughly three-minute video of the March 5 incident at Cranston Police headquarters was played during Mattiello’s testimony. The Herald, due to the constraints of press time, listened to the proceedings by telephone, part of the expanded public access the state’s court system has provided during the pandemic.

Mattiello is currently incarcerated for bail and probation violations, and his testimony was briefly delayed pending the arrival of his counsel from the public defender’s office.

During questioning from Johnson, Mattiello provided his account of the traffic stop and cell block incident on March 5.

“I just remember an officer at the window screaming … I was scared to get out of the car,” he said. He identified Leonard as the officer, describing him as “very irate that day.”

“He just kept yelling at me and yelling at me and yelling at me … He called me a coward, a [expletive] punk,” he said.

He added: “The guy was an animal.”

The state’s questioning of Mattiello ended shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday. Defense cross-examination resume at around 2 p.m., shortly before the Herald’s press time.

During the first portion of the questioning, Monaghan questioned Mattiello’s account of the events during the initial stop and at Cranston Police headquarters. He also sought to portray Mattiello as more concerned with accessing methadone, which he was taking for substance abuse treatment, rather than any injuries during a hospitalization following the incident.

Mattiello pushed back, saying a nurse at the hospital had ignored his complaints of, and failed to report or document, injuries he sustained during his encounter with police.

“She brushed me off,” he said.

The state indicated earlier in the proceedings that it intended to call four witnesses in all, including the other officers who were present for the incident.

At the start of the proceedings, O’Neill – who will issue the ruling in the case – asked the parties if any settlement had been discussed. Johnson then offered a one-year sentence suspended with probation, along with a $100 fine. The defense rejected the offer.


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