Judge rejects change of venue bid in Pittsfield officer's assault trial

By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle PITTSFIELD — The trial of a city police officer and another man accused of an assault and cover-up will remain in Berkshire County — at least for now. But the ruling Monday by Judge Karen L.

Goodwin leaves the door open to move the trial to another jurisdiction if “it becomes apparent during jury selection that it is not possible to select a fair and impartial jury in Berkshire County.” Attorneys for suspended Pittsfield Police Officer Michael McHugh and Jason Labelle filed a motion last week to change the venue, citing concerns that prospective jurors may be prejudiced based on media coverage of the case. According to court documents, Labelle told McHugh he and his family were being harassed by Michael Cebula.

The two spotted Cebula pulling into a driveway about 10 p.m. July 4, 2016, and approached him. McHugh then pulled him from the truck and held him down while Labelle kicked and beat him, prosecutors allege.

Cebula was treated for fractured ribs, a fractured vertebrae and other injuries, but attorneys for the men have raised questions about the source of those injuries. Both defendants are also charged with providing false information in the case. McHugh was off-duty from the police department the night of the incident.

He was placed on suspension without pay in August 2017 following his indictment by a Berkshire County grand jury and a local civil service hearing, according to Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.

Article Continues After These Ads

McHugh has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer and being a public employee making a false report. Labelle has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, falsely reporting a crime, misleading a judge and misleading a clerk. Cebula has also filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking unspecified damages from the two men and the city.

In her ruling, Goodwin noted that while the relatively small size of Pittsfield may weigh in favor of moving the case, prospective jurors are brought in from throughout the county. She also said that the media coverage, “while extensive, has not been sensational.” “This type of coverage is not so inflammatory as to give rise to a presumption of prejudice,” Goodwin wrote in her three-page decision, which was filed Monday in Berkshire Superior Court.

In a footnote, Goodwin also said there was no evidence included in the motion, such as polling data, suggesting pretrial publicity has affected the community’s view of the case. The defendants remain free on personal recognizance with the condition they have no contact with Cebula. Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.

If you’d like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us.

We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

You may also like...