PITTSBURGH (AP/KDKA) – A fired city police sergeant awaiting trial on charges that he wrongly beat a drunken fan at a high school football championship game last year used more force than necessary 56 times, county prosecutors said Monday.
Steve Matakovich used more than the minimum force necessary – “forcible handcuffing” – every time he filed reports claiming people resisted his efforts to arrest or control them since 2011, Allegheny County prosecutors wrote in court papers. The instances of excessive force included 17 times in which he injured people by striking them in the head or face, they wrote.
The motion also details a December 2014 encounter in which Matakovich allegedly beat up a security guard who was trying to break up a fight, then wrongly charged that man with aggravated assault, prosecutors said.
Matakovich was fired and faces a state court trial next month in the Nov. 28 beating and arrest of Gabriel Despres, 20, at Heinz Field. Matakovich also faces federal charges that he violated Despres’ civil rights and then filed a false police report to obstruct the FBI investigation into the arrest.
County prosecutors detailed the new allegations – known legally as “prior bad acts” – in a request to Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning.
“I think they’re trying to paint him as a bad policeman,” said Matakovich’s attorney Pat Thomassey
Prosecutors are suggesting this is his method of operation: beat a suspect, never using the least amount of force, charge him with felonies, get the suspect to plead to lesser charges and get away with the excessive use of force.
“I think that if it was his MO on the street they would have more than one other act. If you talk to any policeman whose been on the job, especially in the city for any period of time, let’s say 20 years, he’s probably pleaded an aggravated assault down to a misdemeanor or disorderly conduct 20 or 30 times,” Thomassey said.
Matakovich has testified that Despres – then 19 – adopted an “aggressive posture” and appeared ready to attack when Matakovich tried to get Despres to leave the stadium.
Surveillance video from the stadium shows Despres with his hands at his sides and not advancing when the officer suddenly pushes him down and then strikes him in the face as he tries to get to his feet.
Marty Griffin: A guy like me says ‘Matakovich beat the daylights out of that guy.’ Wouldn’t you suggest an amateur would view it that way sir?
Matakovich: I already conceded the fact that someone that doesn’t really understand what we go through and what we do would probably get that.
Despres was treated for a bloody nose and has pleaded guilty to citations for public drunkenness and defiant trespass, and was ordered to pay more than $900 in fines and court costs.
The state charges against Matakovich are both misdemeanors carrying no more than two years in prison, but the federal charges are much more serious. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the civil rights charge and up to 20 years for the records falsification charge, both felonies, if convicted.
U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon has scheduled a Sept. 27 hearing on Matakovich’s motion to dismiss those charges.
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