A Pittsburgh police sergeant filmed brutalizing and repeatedly striking a man at a high school football championship game at Heinz Field in late November, has been acquitted of all charges.
Sgt. Stephen Matakovich accused 19-year-old Gabriel Despres of taking an “aggressive attacking position” and said he believed he was going to be assaulted.
Surveillance footage recorded from the scene however, shows the teen simply standing with his hands in his pockets before Matakovich violently shoves him to the ground.
The footage then shows a disorientated and admittedly intoxicated Despres attempt to get back to his feet as Matakovich shoves him back to the ground and begins punching him in the face.
Watch the raw footage:
Despres was charged with criminal trespass, public drunkenness, aggravated assault and underage drinking following the incident and was treated for a bloody nose at UPMC Mercy.
Matakovich, who was in uniform working security detail at the game, was placed on paid leave after the attack and was latter charged with misdemeanor simple assault and misdemeanor official oppression. On Monday, however, a district judge dismissed both charges against him after a preliminary hearing.
Matakovich said in his original reports that he was called to Gate 5 after Despres attempted to gain entrance into the stadium and security staff refused to let him enter because he was drunk.
Matakovich said Despres refused to leave Heinz Field after being told repeatedly to do so, and at one point, “stepped his leg back and bladed his body slightly and appeared to have clenched his right fist… and then rocked onto the balls of his feet from his heels.”
Matakovich maintained that Despres lunged toward him, punched him in his chest, and also grabbed the his jacket – claims proven completely false by the surveillance video – and witness statements, which said Despres made no verbal threats and did not take a fighting stance during the encounter.
Despite this, and testimony by a use of force expert stating that Matakovich’s “use of force was not reasonable” because Despres showed “no resistance,” the sergeant was still acquitted of his charges.
District Judge Ravenstahl said to a court room packed with cheering officers during the ruling, that any disciplinary action against Matakovich should be handled internally by police and not through the courts.
A police union spokesperson said he was “very pleased with Ravenstahl’s decision.”
Local news coverage:
Update: After public outcry, Allegheny County prosecutors say they will now refile charges against Matakovich.