Former Streamwood cop Mandarino guilty in brutality case
Before announcing his ruling that ex-Streamwood cop James Mandarino was guilty of police brutality, Judge Thomas P. Fecarotta called his decision an important one.
"I also realize no matter what I do, I'm going to be a hero to some, and something less than a hero to others," Fecarotta said.
And with that, Fecarotta ruled that the 42-year-old Mandarino was guilty of aggravated assault and official misconduct. Mandarino faces probation or two to five years in prison when he returns to court April 25 for sentencing. This was the seventh day of proceedings, which began March 8.
Mandarino, whom the Streamwood Police Department fired last June, walked briskly Wednesday afternoon out of the Rolling Meadows courthouse, flanked by his wife and friends, who included some plain-clad former colleagues. When asked if he had any comments, he replied, "No sir."
Ronald Bell, the 28-year-old man struck 15 times with Mandarino's collapsible metal baton, was absent from court. He was at work, said his brother, Stacey Bell. He witnessed his brother being beaten and testified earlier this month. The family is pleased with the verdict.
"He's very elated," Stacey Bell said after getting off the phone with his brother.
Nolan Stalbaum, the man Mandarino used a stun gun on, also made a brief statement.
"I kept my faith in the justice system, and justice prevailed," he said.
The video footage -- recorded in the early hours on March 28, 2010, by the camera inside Mandarino's marked police cruiser -- proved the most damning, Fecarotta said. It shows Mandarino striking Bell as he kneels in his driveway with his hands on his head. The footage also shows Stalbaum, 38, of Glendale Heights, being stunned.
"I think any rational analysis, including the video, would indicate that the conduct of the defendant was wrong, just plain wrong," Fecarotta said. "I think this conduct is such that it was unprovoked, unnecessary, and in my opinion, totally unacceptable."
Fecarotta added: "If a picture speaks a thousand words, the video speaks a million."
The judge also commented on how quickly Mandarino drew his gun in approaching Bell's SUV, given he had followed Bell less than a mile when he reached Bell's driveway. Fecarotta said if Mandarino believed this was a high-risk stop, why didn't he say that when he called for backup.
"I keep thinking about the reason for this stop, which is potential reckless driving," Fecarotta said. "Quite frankly I was a little surprised to see immediately -- in 44 seconds flat -- the handgun coming out, pointing directly at Mr. Bell and Mr. Stalbaum."
Fecarotta said he viewed the video about 60 times and didn't see what could have provoked Mandarino's behavior.
Prosecutor Mike Gerber lauded the verdict and said the majority of police officers provide outstanding service under stressful conditions.
"However, this finding sends a message that these types of offenses committed against unarmed civilians and citizens and a breach of the public trust will not be tolerated," he said.
While Mandarino's attorneys attempted to justify the use of force, Fecarotta said Bell suffered great bodily harm based on the number of times Mandarino hit Bell.
"This wasn't a tap. This was full force in the head, in the back, in the right arm, forearm, and so forth; clearly (the baton) is a deadly weapon," Fecarotta said.
Bell and Stalbaum were coming back from a union banquet in Willowbrook and a party in Carol Stream where they had watched a mixed martial arts fight on television when they were stopped.
Fecarotta said Bell was probably driving drunk, and had more than the three alcoholic beverages he admitted to drinking. Their testimony was also affected by their pending lawsuit against the village of Streamwood, Fecarotta said. Bell testified he rejected a $250,000 settlement.
"I'm not saying that Mr. Bell and Mr. Stalbaum are upstanding, wonderful citizens," Fecarotta said. "Look, they are not."
Stacey Bell disagreed with Fecarotta's characterization of his brother.
"Everybody's entitled to their own perception," Stacey Bell said. "I was there, I saw them in person, that's just how the judge perceives it."
Mandarino's attorney, Ed Wanderling, complained that media coverage of the trial focused on the video and said that not enough reporting was done about the sobriety of Bell and Stalbaum.
"It was very detrimental. … I wish you guys had a little bit more responsibility," he said.
Wanderling said his client's life was ruined by the 11-second clip showing him beating Bell. Mandarino, who earned $94,000 per year, now works for minimum wage as a security guard while the Aurora home where he lives with his wife and three children goes through foreclosure.
Rick Beuke, lead attorney for Mandarino, left the courthouse without fielding questions.
Streamwood Police Chief Al Popp and Deputy Chief James Gremo sat in court in full uniform. Popp delivered a prepared statement calling the case "very unfortunate for all parties involved."
"The village of Streamwood believes this matter was adjudicated in the proper venue, a court of law," Popp said.
Streamwood Village President Billie Roth declined to comment. Defense attorneys suggested that Mandarino was targeted by the village because of a brutality case involving another officer that ended in a big settlement. Streamwood Village Manager Gary O'Rourke denied that.
"We treat each and every instance or complaint about any of our employees completely independent and thoroughly investigate them," he said.