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Witness: Victim followed cop's commands

VehiclesJustice SystemAssault

The brother of a man who was hit repeatedly by a Streamwood police officer testified at the officer’s trial Wednesday that his brother never struck back or resisted the policeman’s commands.

Stacey Bell told a packed courtroom in Cook County’s Rolling Meadows branch court that he saw Officer James Mandarino point to the ground with a baton and say, “Get down,” as Ronald Bell fell to his knees with his hands raised over his head.

“The officer grabbed his arm and pulled him down. His hands went to the pavement,” Stacey Bell said in court. “Ron said, ‘I don’t understand what I did,’ and it appeared that the officer struck him in the back of the head.”

The incident took place in the front yard of Ron Bell’s Streamwood home last March.

It was the second day of Mandarino’s bench trial before Judge Thomas Fecarotta Jr. on charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct. The charges came after Mandarino, who has since been fired from the Streamwood force, was seen on video -- taken by his own squad car camera -- striking Ron Bell 15 times with a metal baton as Bell knelt on the ground.

The videotape, played in court Wednesday, has no audio but shows Mandarino striking Bell on the head, back and arms while Bell is on his knees. Bell suffered lacerations and a head injury in the beating.

Defense attorneys described Ronald Bell and his passenger and friend Nolan Stalbaum, of Glendale Heights, as intoxicated and aggressive during the stop, justifying Mandarino’s use force. His attorneys have said the footage is doesn’t tell the whole story, and that Mandarino had an “impeccable” record as a law-enforcement official.

Under questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Gerber, Stacey Bell described a chaotic scene after he was awakened by a commotion in the early morning hours of March 28, 2010.  He testified that he went downstairs and saw his brother’s vehicle in the driveway of the home they shared.

He said he saw his brother standing next to his SUV, a police officer with something resembling a gun in his hand and Stalbaum kneeling on all fours near the front door of the home.

Mandarino had used a Taser on Stalbaum, who was a passenger in the SUV, Stalbaum testified. Stacey Bell said he opened the front door of the home and could hear the officer.

“I heard the officer say to Nolan, ‘Stay down.’ Then he told me to stay inside,” Stacey Bell testified.

He said the officer then moved to the driver’s side of the car and give orders to his brother, who was standing with his hands up. In the next few seconds,  Ronald Bell dropped to his knees and placed his hands on the pavement.

Stacey Bell testified that he yelled at the officer, “ ‘Why are you doing this? He’s following your commands.’ He didn’t stop. I told the officer he didn’t have the right to beat him. The officer just told me to stay back.”

During Stalbaum testimony, he said police used a stun gun on him twice that morning. Stalbaum admitted that he did not obey Mandarino’s orders to get back into the car, and that’s when Mandarino used a Taser on him.

“I collapsed. I just collapsed,” said Stalbaum.

Stalbaum, after briefly going inside the house, returned outside and said another officer who had arrived as backup then used a Taser on him again.

“Another officer came up and said, Get on the ground,’ and I was on my hands and knees and I thought that was on the ground,” said Stalbaum. “Then I was Tasered again.”

The Bells and Stalbaum have filed a civil lawsuit against Streamwood for damages. Ronald Bell and Stalbaum were treated and released for their injuries after the incident. They were both arrested – Bell for traffic charges, Stalbaum for resisting arrest – but those charges have been dropped.

A number of off-duty Streamwood officers have been attending the trial in apparent support of Mandarino but have declined to comment.

The trial is set to continue Thursday.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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