Streamwood cop charged with beating driver in traffic stop
A Streamwood police officer faces charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct after a video from a predawn traffic stop March 28 showed him striking the driver 15 times with his baton and twice using a stun gun on the vehicle's passenger, prosecutors said.
The incident was captured on the squad car's dashboard camera, and the footage was released Thursday by the Cook County state's attorney's office after the officer was charged in criminal court in Chicago.
James Mandarino, 41, a 15-year veteran on the Streamwood force, was released on $50,000 bond. He faces two to five years in state prison if he is convicted of the Class 3 felonies.
Both Mandarino and his attorney, Ed Wanderling, declined to comment Thursday.
"I'm sorry, I've been advised by my attorney not to make any statement," Mandarino told reporters who surrounded him as he left the Cook County courthouse at 26th and California.
According to a state's attorney news release, the videotape from the squad car "showed no evidence that the motorist or his passenger ever resisted arrest or presented any physical threat to the officer."
The 28-year-old driver, Ronald Bell, was hospitalized and treated for a concussion and bruises and cuts, taking seven stitches.
His brother, Stacey Bell, said he took photos of Ronald at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates approximately eight hours after the beating, which took place in the driveway of Ronald Bell's home. Stacey said he appears in the video exiting the house and trying to stop Mandarino from continuing to beat his brother.
Stacey Bell said Ronald returned to his union construction job as a drilling assistant the following morning after only a few hours of sleep and without taking any painkillers, fearful that further absenteeism would cost him his job.
"Every law-enforcement officer holds his or her powers through the public trust, and this defendant's senseless act of rage against an unarmed citizen constitutes an offensive violation of that trust," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said at a midday news conference Thursday. "This conduct cannot and will not be tolerated."
The officer originally arrested Ronald Bell on charges of driving under the influence, and arrested both driver and passenger on charges of obstruction of justice, but Alvarez said those charges have been dismissed.
Mandarino was reportedly stationed at Schaumburg Road and East Avenue about 3:45 a.m. March 28 when he tailed a car heading west on Schaumburg Road. Alvarez said Mandarino reported he was responding to "squealing tires," although there's no sound on the released video.
The video shows Mandarino following the car after the driver had pulled into his own driveway, where both passengers get out. Mandarino exits the squad car, gun drawn, and points at the driver, ordering him back into the vehicle. He then approaches the 38-year-old passenger, who had stepped out of the car, and uses his stun gun on him, prosecutors said.
Authorities did not identify the passenger.
"The video reflects that immediately after the passenger was tasered by the defendant, the victim exits his parked vehicle with his hands in the air and remains in that position with his hands raised in the air for 11 seconds," said Assistant State's Attorney Alexander Vroustouris in reading the complaint at the bond hearing. "The video reflects that the victim then places his hands behind his head and turns to face toward the defendant. The victim remains stationary in that position for approximately 90 seconds with his hands either completely in the air or with his hands placed behind his head."
Mandarino, brandishing his baton, then directs the driver to get on his knees. He pulls the driver forward, forcing his hands to the ground, and beats him about the head, neck and shoulders 15 times, prosecutors said.
"At no time," Vroustouris said, "does the video reflect that the victim had anything in his hands, nor does the video reflect the victim make any threatening motions. The video reflects that during this beating, the victim is completely compliant with his hands visible and either above his head or on the ground the entire time."
Alvarez called it "not only disturbing, it's outrageous and it's unacceptable."
Alvarez said that the investigation had not turned up any previous connection between Mandarino and the driver, and that she had no record of any previous disciplinary problems involving the officer.
Alvarez thanked the Streamwood Police Department, which took part in the investigation, and Chief Alan Popp.
"They notified us of this incident within 24 hours," Alvarez said. "They acted swiftly."
In a prepared statement, the Streamwood Police Department said it learned of the incident on the day it happened and immediately contacted the Illinois State Police to conduct an independent investigation.
State police later referred the investigation to the Cook County state's attorney's office's Special Prosecution Bureau, which Thursday authorized charges against Mandarino.
The Streamwood Police Department initially placed Mandarino on paid administrative leave. He was suspended Wednesday.
"Integrity serves as the foundation of the Streamwood Police Department operations," the village statement reads. "Nothing is more important than maintaining the trust and confidence our residents have placed in us. We believe that as difficult as it is, our actions in this incident reaffirm our complete commitment to the community."
Alvarez added, "While this is a difficult day for their department, they are to be commended for taking quick and proper action following this incident."
Reporters attempted to reach Mandarino at his Aurora home Thursday evening. About 6:30 p.m. a woman pulled into the attached garage and closed the door. Minutes later a man next door got into a car, pulled into Mandarino's driveway and ran to the back of the residence. No one answered the door. Neighbors of Mandarino said either they did not know him or did not want to comment.
The attorneys for Ronald Bell, Loevy & Loevy, have tentatively scheduled a news conference on behalf of their client at 11 a.m. today at their Chicago office, and sources said they plan to file a federal lawsuit for police brutality.
Thursday's charges come less than a month after a Cook County jury awarded Streamwood resident Rodolfo Rivera $200,000 in a lawsuit charging police misconduct.
His lawsuit said Streamwood police had fabricated charges of felony aggravated battery, misdemeanor aggravated assault and resisting a peace officer in June 2006 after Rivera was bitten by a police dog. All the charges eventually were thrown out except one of disorderly conduct for not placing his hands behind his back when asked.
Rivera's family had called police to report that an uninvited group had crashed their party. Streamwood police said the dog attacked Rivera after he charged the dog's handler, officer Alexander Vanderlinden. The jury absolved Vanderlinden, ruling that he did not order the attack.
Streamwood officials plan to appeal the March 19 verdict.
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas and Melissa Jenco contributed to this report.