By Sharif Paget
A Milwaukee policeman charged in the April choking death of a man at the off-duty officer’s home had his first court appearance Wednesday.
Michael Mattioli, 32, is charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Joel Acevedo the morning after a party at Mattioli’s house, according to the criminal complaint.
Mattioli’s bond was continued Wednesday at $50,000 at the hearing, and “he remains out of custody pending trial,” Michael F. Hart, an attorney for Mattioli, said in a statement to CNN, adding that he’s confident his client will be vindicated.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of George Floyd, is now representing Acevedo’s family, “because the police continue to literally choke the life out of Black and Brown people,” Crump said Tuesday in a statement.
An altercation turned deadly
Acevedo died in the hospital several days later.
Mattioli told police, according to the criminal complaint, that he woke up the morning after the party, which Acevedo had attended, to find Acevedo going through the pockets of the pants Mattioli was wearing.
Mattioli told police he confronted Acevedo and told him to leave, and then Acevedo punched another person in the house, according to the complaint. That’s when Mattioli subdued Acevedo on the floor with his arm around Acevedo’s neck, the complaint says, and called 911.
When officers arrived, Acevedo wasn’t moving, the complaint says. Mattioli insisted he had not choked Acevedo. “I had him around his neck, but I didn’t squeeze as hard as I could because I know, I’m not stupid. … I know what’s deadly force and what’s not, but I held him there to make sure he didn’t get away,” he is quoted in the complaint as telling one officer who responded. “I wasn’t holding him to make his air cut off you know I’m not stupid.”
Hart said there is “no measure of equivalence between the charges against Mr. Mattioli and the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the larger and real systemic issues underlying the nationwide protests that Mr. Floyd’s death has sparked.”
“This is categorially not a case of a white cop abusing his position of power against a person of color,” Hart said. “Mr. Mattioli and Mr. Acevedo were friends, and Mr. Acevedo was an invited guest into Mr. Mattioli’s home until he was caught trying to steal and physically assaulted another.”
He also questioned whether Mattioli would have been charged if he was not a police officer.
Acevedo’s parents rejected Mattioli’s narrative, saying their son was just trying to go home when he was subdued.
“He wanted to go home,” Acevedo’s mother, Maribel, said outside the courthouse Wednesday. “And he (Mattioli) refused to let him go home. He thought that he had all authority to take my son’s life,” she said.
Crump and Acevedo’s family allege that Mattioli strangled Acevedo for over 10 minutes before he let go of him when police arrived at the scene. According to the complaint, 10 minutes passed between the call to 911 and officers arriving at Mattioli’s house.
Crump is demanding that recordings from the 911 call and the body cameras of responding officers be released, “So you the people can see for yourself how they strangled, literally, the life out of a human being,” he said Wednesday.
Mattioli, a member of the Milwaukee Police Department, is on paid leave, according to department spokesperson Sheronda Grant.
The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission is taking over the investigation, Grant said.
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