CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The judge overseeing the assault trial for a Cranston officer found him guilty Thursday of assaulting a suspect who was being booked at the police department last year.
Andrew Leonard, 45, was charged with simple assault last May following an altercation inside the cell block with Gian Mattiello, who had just been arrested on a domestic violence charge.
Surveillance video played in court showed Leonard tackling, kneeing and punching Mattiello.
The judge determined Leonard appeared to be taunting Mattiello prior to the altercation.
“Sometimes you gain control of a situation by removing yourself, but Leonard was there. He wanted Mattiello to make the first move,” the judge said. “There were so many opportunities to have this not happen. You could’ve just let him go.”
Mattiello previously testified that Leonard initiated the “trash talking.” He said he didn’t fight back when Leonard began attacking him, even though he wanted to.
When asked why he didn’t fight back, Mattiello said, “because he’s a cop.”
Leonard took the stand for the second time Thursday and used that to defend his actions.
He acknowledged that the two had exchanged insults prior to the altercation, and while he was annoyed by Mattiello, he didn’t threaten him.
“I never threatened to assault him … but I was swearing,” he recalled.
Leonard previously testified that he punched, kicked and kneed Mattiello because he feared he was hiding an item in his fist.
While Mattiello appears to be compliant in the surveillance footage, Leonard said he wasn’t prior to entering the cell block.
After watching the surveillance footage Thursday, Leonard admitted that in hindsight, he could’ve handled certain aspects of the situation differently.
But he was adamant that Mattiello was fighting back, which is why the use of force was necessary.
“The part where he is grabbing my leg is not on the screen, it’s lower,” Leonard said, referencing the surveillance video.
Leonard previously said Mattiello had grabbed the flashlight on his waistband. He also testified that, while Mattiello did not punch him, he grabbed him hard enough leave a bruise.
When asked whether he went to the hospital after the incident, Leonard said he did not. He also said he told one of his supervisors about the altercation, however, he declined to name that person in court.
Before the verdict was read, Leonard repeatedly claimed the other two officers in the cell block had abandoned him, which is why he acted the way he did.
But the judge said there was a reason the two officers didn’t back him up.
“Do you know why the other officers didn’t engage? It’s because they knew what was happening and they weren’t going to engage with Gian Mattiello,” the judge said. “They thought what was happening was not right … They are not going to put their careers on the line.”
“I grew up with brothers – four Irish boys – and I’ve seen that look a million times,” the judge continued. “It says ‘go ahead, do it.’ In my opinion, Officer Leonard blew a fuse.”
The judge gave Leonard a one-year suspended sentence with probation and ordered him not to have contact with Mattiello. He was released on $1,000 personal recognizance.
The domestic violence charge against Mattiello has since been dropped, however, he remains in police custody on unrelated charges.
Attorney General Peter Neronha said based on the evidence, the judge’s verdict was warranted.
“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,” Neronha said. “[Leonard] invited conflict, apparently believing that his position as a police officer would shield him from the consequences of his actions. He was mistaken.”
“Police officers have a difficult and often thankless job,” he continued. “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.”
Leonard told the court he plans to appeal the verdict. Until that appeal process plays out, the department can’t discuss his job status because of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
While Leonard has been suspended with pay from the department since last March, beginning Friday, he will no longer receive his pay.