Medical, treatment records sought for assault victim suing Pittsfield officer

By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle PITTSFIELD — Attorneys representing a city police officer and another man accused in a 2016 assault are seeking the victim’s medical and treatment records in order to challenge his credibility and recollection of the incident. But Steven Gagne, the special prosecutor brought in to try the cases of Officer Michael McHugh and Jason Labelle, told the judge that much of the information being sought is irrelevant to the case.

The two men are facing assault and other charges in the July 4, 2016, incident in which they allegedly targeted Michael Cebula, of Dalton, who Labelle says had been harassing him and his family, and then tried to cover it up. During a pretrial hearing Thursday in the case, attorney Timothy Shugrue, representing McHugh, appeared before Judge Karen L. Goodwin seeking medical records from Cebula to determine whether injuries he says he suffered as a result of the alleged assault, including a fractured vertebrae and fractured ribs, were injuries he had incurred in the past.

Attorney Timothy Burke, representing Labelle, is seeking access to records of any substance abuse treatment for the victim, which, he said, might indicate a relapse, a recurring pattern of drug abuse or an escalation of concerning behavior in the months leading up to the alleged assault. Burke also said the information would be used to challenge the credibility of the victim. Gagne argued that the case isn’t about what Cebula did before his encounter with the men, but what happened after, when the defendants allegedly beat the man and then lied about it to investigators.

Goodwin said she would take the matter under advisement and issue a decision soon. The cases, which will be tried together in Berkshire Superior Court, are expected to go to trial in early September. A status hearing is set for Tuesday.

According to court documents, Labelle told McHugh, who was off duty at the time, that he and his family were being harassed by the victim. The two spotted the man pulling into a driveway about 10 p.m. and approached him. According to court documents, McHugh then pulled him from the truck and held him down while Labelle kicked and beat him.

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Cebula was charged with several offenses, including operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, disturbing the peace and possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

He was acquitted of the OUI charge in March 2018. The remaining charges were dismissed before trial. McHugh, who wrote a report in the case, despite being off-duty, also is accused of putting false information in that report.

An internal affairs report conducted after the incident found issue with several of McHugh’s descriptions of the night’s events. “Our initial investigation showed that events did not occur as Ofc. McHugh’s arrest report … described,” it reads. “We believed that excessive force was used against Cebula by McHugh.”

McHugh admitted to consuming four beers that day, according to the internal affairs report, which accused him of violating the department regulation that “off-duty officers shall not consume alcoholic beverages while carrying a department-issued firearm.” A motion to dismiss the charges against McHugh was denied. Cebula recently filed a federal civil lawsuit against McHugh, Labelle and the city of Pittsfield seeking unspecified damages.

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. Both defendants remain free on personal recognizance with the condition they have no contact with the victim.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.

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