CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The judge overseeing the bench trial for a Cranston police officer accused of attacking a suspect last year has denied a motion to dismiss the assault charge against him.
Andrew Leonard, 45, was charged with simple assault last May following a violent interaction with Gian Mattiello, who had just been arrested on a domestic violence charge. Leonard has since been suspended from the Cranston Police Department.
Surveillance video played in court Tuesday showed Leonard tackling, kneeing and punching Mattiello while he was being booked at the station.
Officer Thomas Lavey, who was in the room and witnessed the altercation, took the stand Wednesday.
Lavey testified that Mattiello was resisting arrest prior to arriving at the station. He said it took three officers, including himself and Leonard, to handcuff him and put him into the cruiser.
As Mattiello was being processed, he and Leonard began bickering with one another, according to Lavey. He said it all started after Leonard yanked out Mattiello’s hair tie.
Lavey said he watched as Leonard picked Mattiello up and “body slammed” him to the ground. He said he did not see Mattiello do anything in the cell block that would warrant that type of force.
“I don’t know what transpired at that moment that escalated the situation,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mattiello said Leonard initiated the “trash talking.” He also testified that he did not fight back against Leonard, although he wanted to.
When asked why he didn’t fight back, Mattiello said, “because he’s a cop.”
Lavey said none of the insults Mattiello hurled at Leonard were out of the ordinary.
“A lot of people aren’t happy they’re being arrested, so their frustrations are high,” Lavey said. “Suspects have said all kinds of things to us in the cell block.”
When asked about whether use of force was necessary, Lavey said he didn’t think so, but acknowledged that Leonard may have perceived something differently than he did.
In an effort to de-escalate the situation, Lavey said he shouted “enough” and “alright” to get the two to stop, however, he admitted the words were meant more for Leonard than Mattiello.
The domestic violence charge against Mattiello has since been dropped, though he remains in police custody on unrelated charges.
Leonard also took the stand Wednesday in his defense and acknowledged that the two had exchanged insults prior to the altercation. He claimed Mattiello is much stronger than he looks, and the use of force was necessary to get him under control.
Leonard also refuted Lavey’s claims that he yanked out Mattiello’s hair tie. He said another officer removed it as they were collecting his belongings, which upset Mattiello further.
When asked why he punched, kicked and kneed Mattiello, Leonard said he feared he was hiding one of his items in his fist. He said he felt the other officers in the cell block with him weren’t backing him up, so he had to take control of the situation.
“It’s easier to get someone under control when on the ground,” Leonard said when asked why he tackled Mattiello.
Leonard also testified that Mattiello did fight back, and at one point grabbed onto the flashlight on his waistband.
“He’s tugging on it, pulling on it, all while we were wrestling,” Leonard said.
The judge decided to deny the defense’s motion to dismiss the charge, stating that in the surveillance video, Leonard appears to be “enticing Mattiello into a fight.”
“Based upon what I saw in the video, he didn’t deserve what happened to him,” the judge said.
The trial is expected to continue Thursday.