In Commonwealth v. O’Neal, the Appeals Court reversed the denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial on an indictment charging him with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, because the Commonwealth failed to preserve a videotape of the incident.
The background was as follows. Police officers responded to reports of an altercation outside a bar. At the scene, the defendant “was yelling at” some other people. He was “unsteady on his feet, smelled of alcohol, and had slurred speech. Concluding that the defendant was intoxicated, the officers placed him into protective custody … and transported him to the police station…. Once at the station garage, the defendant was unwilling or unable to exit the cruiser. The officers therefore pulled him out of the vehicle, and placed him on the ground after he could not, or would not, stand. At that point, the officers radioed their supervisors inside the station for assistance, and they were brought a restraint chair to transport the defendant to the booking area. A restraint chair is designed to immobilize unruly detainees. It has a seat that is tilted so that … the person sitting there is lying back at an angle with his knees elevated above his hips. The chair has straps to be used to hold in place a detainee’s wrists, ankles, lap and shoulders. In this instance, however, the officers did not use the available straps to secure the defendant…. Instead, after placing him in the chair with his hands handcuffed behind his back, they left him that way for the trip into the station. According to the defendant, who testified at trial, this meant that his entire weight fell on his handcuffed wrists, causing him ‘excruciating pain.’…. The failure of the police to secure the defendant in the restraint chair appears to be at odds with a written policy that emerged only in postconviction discovery…. At least at one point during the trip from the garage to the booking area, the defendant’s [unsecured] foot … was hanging off the side of the chair,” thus “imped[ing] the movement of the chair…. [In response,] the police officers tilted the restraint chair back in order to keep [it] moving…. The defendant described the tilting of the chair as a sudden jerking that caused him to flail in it. He admitted that his foot came into contact with one of the officers, but he characterized it as an accidental ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the sudden tilting of the chair. The officers described it as a … deliberate [and forceful] kick to the … stomach,” which the officer who was struck described as painful. On the basis of the alleged kick, the defendant was indicted for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, a shod foot. Continue reading →