CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) - In a uniquely Rhode Island twist, independent candidate for governor Joe Trillo is recounting an incident more than 40 years ago where he admits he struck a teenage Nicholas Mattiello, the state's current House Speaker.
According to Trillo, the incident happened in the early 1970s, when he lived on Surrey Drive in Cranston. Mattiello's family lived next door.
As Trillo tells it, he was outside working on his house when he heard a young girl's screams coming from a nearby home. He saw a group of young boys pounding on the front door of the home, where the girl - who by Trillo's recollection was was around 12 or 13 - had been left alone.
“I immediately dropped everything I was doing and ran over to the house, and started waving my arms around furiously to disband the group of boys doing everything they could to get in that house," Trillo said in a statement issued Wednesday morning. "That’s when one of my arms unintentionally struck young Nicholas Mattiello, who was approximately 14 years old."
According to reports from WPRO radio, Mattiello's family pressed charges, Trillo pleaded no contest, and, eventually, the assault charge was expunged from the gubernatorial candidate's record.
Trillo and Mattiello went on to serve together in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and Trillo was at times a strong support of the speaker's agenda despite being a member of the opposition party.
“I vaguely recall an incident that took place well over 40 years ago," Mattiello, D-Cranston, said in a statement Wednesday. "I respect Joe Trillo, who is a friend and a good person, and I have a lot of affection for him.”
Trillo said he wishes he "hadn’t accidentally come in contact with Nicholas Mattiello," but said he believes he "did the right thing, trying to protect the frightened young girl."
"I’m not the type of man who sits by and ignores what could have been a potential problem," he added.
A Target 12 review of judicial records turned up a court document that said Trillo was found "not guilty" of an 1975 assault charge out of Cranston following a trial in early 1977.
Odd: Court archive shows *this* entry for an assault charge against @JoeTrillo, which states he was found "not guilty" at trial. Trillo said he plead no contest to assault. Spox says this is the same case, just didn't recall exact outcome. That is a HUGE difference pic.twitter.com/M6AA2KiJSX— Tim White (@TimWhiteRI) October 10, 2018
Trillo spokesperson confirmed that document refers to the Mattiello incident. Asked by WPRO's Matt Allen about the discrepancy between his recollection of pleading no content and the record showing his acquittal, Trillo acknowledged his memory was somewhat hazy.
"I don't remember a formal trial," Trillo said.
Trillo was appearing on Allen's program to discuss another incident. Roughly 10 years ago, he said, he got into an argument with then-Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt in the Republican caucus office at the State House. He said Ehrhardt poked him in the eye, and he responded by slapping Ehrhardt.
Ehrhardt quickly called in to Allen's show, and acknowledged an incident, but said he poked Trillo in the nose in a light-hearted way, only for Trillo to hit him back hard and leave bruises. "Larry, got talking to you," Trillo said when Ehrhardt hung up.
Trillo blamed Republican gubernatorial nominee Allan Fung for dredging up both stories to undermine his candidacy. He also criticized Fung over text messages discussed Tuesday on WPRO host Dan Yorke's show that allegedly showed a Fung supporter bullying Kalasia Richer, president of the Roger Williams University College Republicans, for backing Trillo over Fung.
Trillo also questioned why Fung has not released court or police documents corroborating his accounting of the February 1989 car crash when Fung struck and killed a man on I-95. Fung - who has said he "lost consciousness" and does not remember what happened - was arrested at the scene, but he said a grand jury later declined to indict him and he later got the records expunged.
Fung criticized Trillo over the incident in a tweet:
Joe Trillo - as a man in his thirties - pleaded NOLO to assaulting a 13 year old. He cannot control himself and is unfit for office.— Mayor Allan Fung (@MayorFung) October 10, 2018
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo's re-election campaign declined to comment on the Trillo revelation.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.