PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — District Judge Dennis Joyce ordered former Pittsburgh Police Sgt. Stephen Matakovich to stand trial on charges of simple assault and official oppression after an altercation with a student at Heinz Field last November.
Joyce threw out charges of perjury, unsworn falsification and an additional count of official oppression. Meanwhile, Matakovich sat down with KDKA’s Marty Griffin to explain his side of the story.
At a previous preliminary hearing with a different judge, all charges against Matakovich were dismissed. The Allegheny County District Attorney refiled charges against him.
These charges stem from a shocking video that shows the former sergeant shoving a 19-year-old suspect.
Marty Griffin: Everyone that sees the video, regular folks, portray you as a bad cop who beats people.
Stephen Matakovich: I don’t think it’s that extreme. I think they may look at it and think my actions were unnecessary.
He says that despite what the video appears to show, he was not punching the suspect in the face.
Marty Griffin: I’m seeing you swinging and swinging. Where were your hands landing?
Stephen Matakovich: He had actually grabbed me like this [grabs Griffin by lapels]. He was pulling me forward like I am. Do you feel how that can cut off the carotid artery?
Marty Griffin: Yeah.
Stephen Matakovich: That’s what I was feeling. So when I was punching, I was punching his hands. When we are bent over, and I’m going like this [makes punching motion], that’s what I’m doing, I’m hitting his hands off of my lapel.
During the hearing Friday, some witnesses testified who did not appear at the previous hearing.
Sean Oates, who works for Landmark Security at the stadium, testified that the confrontation with alleged victim, Gabriel Despres, started out relatively calmly, but eventually escalated. Despres was visibly intoxicated and refused to leave the stadium as ordered by security personnel.
At one point, Matakovich told Despres, “I’ll put my boot so far up your a–, you’ll taste my shoe leather.” And that once Matakovich and Despres got into a scuffle, Oates put his hand on the officer’s back and said, “Matakovich that’s enough.”
Security guard Sean Jackson testified Despres showed no signs of threatening behavior.
Despres, a mechanical engineering student at Penn State Behrend, testified his nose was swollen and he suffered contusions to his face before spending a night in jail.
Matakovich maintained that Despres’ nose was already swollen and that he was not striking him in the face.
The former sergeant said his side of the story will help in him being found innocent and maintains his career is not over.
Marty Griffin: You think you can get a fair trial with jurors watching that video?
Stephen Matakovich: Absolutely. I have faith in the justice system. It’s a system that I have supported and been a part of for 23 years. So, I can’t turn my back on it. I can’t say I don’t believe. It’s a system I support.
Pittsburgh Police’s use of force expert David Wright testified he reviewed the video tape of the encounter and concluded Matakovich abused the use of force.
“In my opinion, the use of force was not reasonable,” he testified. “There was no need for that kind of force because I saw no resistance.”
Defense attorney Blaine Jones says he’s not sure of the impact of today’s developments on a federal civil rights case filed against his client in recent days.
Matakovich told Marty Griffin that he is strong and will persevering.
“If they think they can outlast me, if they think that I’m gonna grow tired or emotionally distraught, and not be able to push forward through, they’re wrong,” he said. “There’s a saying that a stream doesn’t make its way through a rock because of strength. It makes it through due to perseverance. I have family, I’ve got God, I’ve got everything on my side. I feel that in the long run I can come out on top.”
The FBI is also investigating the alleged assault.