State Trooper, Recommended For Prosecution by Judge, Slated For Civil Brutality Trial

Dr. Oscar Gonzalez is seen after his arrest in a photograph presented as evidence during his trial in Central District Court.

WORCESTER – A state trooper whom a Worcester judge recommended be charged criminally after allegations that he beat up a doctor on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Auburn is scheduled to defend himself against a civil lawsuit this month.

Joseph J. Hilton, a 32-year trooper who disputes the allegations, is scheduled for a trial Oct. 29 in U.S. District Court along with several other troopers accused of excessive force.

“He should be charged with a crime,” Central District Court Judge Andrew M. D’Angelo said of Trooper Hilton in August 2015 after finding the man he arrested not guilty of assaulting police.

Trooper Hilton has not been charged with a crime.

The case stems from a March 8, 2014, vehicle stop of a Glastonbury, Connecticut, dentist that spiraled out of control and led to Trooper Hilton and the man rolling around on the ground along the turnpike eastbound in Auburn.

The dentist, Oscar E. Gonzalez, and his son, now 22, contend that Trooper Hilton struck the man repeatedly after becoming enraged at the doctor’s questioning of his authority to tow his car during the stop.

Trooper Hilton and several other troopers have testified that Dr. Gonzalez was resisting arrest. A couple who stopped their car to help the trooper testified that troopers were telling him to stop resisting.

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Gonzalez was taken by ambulance to UMass Memorial Medical Center. The then 51-year-old had a broken rib and tooth, had bleeding in his ear canal and was treated for lacerations to his scalp, forehead and face.

The lawsuit further alleges Dr. Gonzalez had a rash and skin inflammation on his genitals and thighs, where he alleges troopers pepper-sprayed him after he was in handcuffs.

Dr. Gonzalez was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Judge D’Angelo found the doctor not guilty in August 2015 and called Assistant District Attorney Daniel J. Guerra to sidebar.

“I am making a formal request to your office that this trooper be considered for prosecution, based on that 911 call,” Judge D’Angelo said regarding a frantic call in which the doctor’s son told police his father was being beaten.

“I want somebody in your office to listen to that 911 call, get the tape of these proceedings. He should be charged with a crime,” the judge said. “And if (my request) needs to be in writing, let Mr. Early know I’m happy to put it in writing.”

Asked earlier this year whether Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. looked into the case, a spokesperson for the office provided the Telegram & Gazette with a letter that Senior First Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers wrote to state police four days after the trial.

“Enclosed please find case information and a trial transcript in a criminal matter involving Trooper Hilton,” Mr. Travers wrote. “The District Court judge in the trial requested that this matter be referred for investigation.”

Records furnished by the state police in response to public record requests indicate the case prompted an internal affairs probe of Trooper Hilton and three other troopers.

Trooper Hilton was cleared of assault and battery allegations on Oct. 24, 2017, the records show. Two of 13 allegations against him were sustained, both for “conduct.”

State police declined to release the full internal affairs report, saying the process is not yet completed because Trooper Hilton has yet to have a disciplinary hearing.

Federal court records indicate state police are waiting until the outcome of the civil trial until holding the hearing. Online state payroll records list Trooper Hilton as an active employee who earned $197,970 in 2017, including $63,655 in overtime pay.

The other three troopers accused of misconduct and named in the lawsuit – Douglas P. Grout, Stephen P. McKay II and William R. Kokocinski (retired) – were cleared of wrongdoing by internal affairs.

An audiotape of Dr. Gonzalez’s trial obtained by the T&G shows that both sides pointed to evidence that appeared to support their version of events.

Both sides agreed Dr. Gonzalez was speeding at 80 mph around 1:30 p.m. and, unbeknown to him, had his license suspended in Massachusetts because of an unpaid ticket from 1998.

They agreed that the physical altercation began after Trooper Hilton ordered Dr. Gonzalez to step from his car, at which time the dentist told his son to start recording on his cellphone.

Trooper Hilton maintains Dr. Gonzalez “chest bumped” him after he told him his car would be towed, starting a struggle that led to him calling for backup and wrestling with the man for an extended period.

Dr. Gonzalez maintains Trooper Hilton was hostile toward him during the stop and used profanity and a racial slur when the two were discussing the car being towed. He alleges that after he told Trooper Hilton he was being recorded, the trooper began beating him, at which point his son, instead of recording, called 911.

The man’s then-17-year-old son, Julian Gonzalez, is heard on a 911 call played in court frantically telling police that his father was being beaten by the trooper.

The tape, as pointed out by the prosecutor, Mr. Guerra, also includes audio in which the teen says, “They’re trying to get his hands behind his back – I guess he’s resisting.”

Mr. Guerra also pointed out that, in addition to multiple troopers testifying Mr. Gonzalez was resisting, two civilians who stopped by the side of the road offered similar testimony.

A firefighter from Rye, New York, who stopped his car to help the trooper testified that the man was holding onto the guardrail, kicking his legs and refusing to let go. He and his wife both said they heard police telling the man to stop resisting.

Dr. Gonzalez did not deny holding on to the guardrail. His lawyer, Peter L. Ettenberg, said he feared for his life, and that any actions he took were undertaken, in his mind, to avoid being hurt.

Mr. Ettenberg drew Judge D’Angelo’s attention to alleged discrepancies in Trooper Hilton’s testimony about where Dr. Gonzalez was positioned during the struggle. He also noted that the trooper, under oath, could not remember an incident in which, according to the lawyer, he’d used a flashlight to break the rear window of a civilian’s car in 1994 in an alleged off-duty fit of rage.

“I don’t recall,” Trooper Hilton stated multiple times as Mr. Ettenberg questioned him about the alleged incident.

Trooper Hilton testified he was suspended for a month in 1995 after supervisors strung together “minor infractions” against him. His concise officer history, a summary of career incidents in which his conduct was examined, shows 22 entries.

The Gonzalez probe was one of two internal affairs probes he’s faced. The other, from 2016, involved allegations of an infraction surrounding policy, procedure and operations, and was sustained.

Trooper Hilton had allegations sustained against him six times for allegations that include verbal abuse, conduct and “other.”

Mr. Ettenberg painted Trooper Hilton as a hothead who had lost his temper before. Federal court records indicate Dr. Gonzalez believes the troopers’ lawyers will call his temper into question as well.

In a federal court filing Oct. 15, the doctor asked the defendants be barred from asking him on the stand about apparent allegations of domestic abuse.

“Dr. Gonzalez’s ex-wife, the only person who has made the allegations, testified that he only engaged in such behavior when he was drinking,” the doctor’s filing reads. “It is undisputed that Dr. Gonzalez had not been drinking on March 8, 2014.”

At the doctor’s criminal trial, Mr. Guerra drew attention to statements a trooper watching him in the hospital attributed to him in a police report.

The doctor told someone in a telephone call that he’d given the trooper a “hard time,” the report reads, and that it “didn’t help his cause.”

On the stand, Dr. Gonzalez denied giving Trooper Hilton a hard time. He also denied telling Trooper Hilton that he witnessed the trooper tailgating other vehicles, despite testimony from his son to the contrary.

Mr. Ettenberg noted that while the trooper overheard Dr. Gonzalez talking about giving the officer a hard time, the trooper also heard Dr. Gonzalez say the trooper beat him up for no reason.

“The evidence is kind of compelling, and the evidence is kind of contradictory,” Mr. Ettenberg said in his closing argument, noting that often times the truth is “somewhere in the middle.”

But, Mr. Ettenberg argued, the physical evidence in the case, in addition to the 911 tape, tilts the balance in the doctor’s favor. He also noted in his questioning of witnesses that none of the people who arrived at the scene after the fracas was reported saw how it began.

“I don’t know what set Trooper Hilton off, but you have the photographs that show the result of what set Trooper Hilton off,” he said.

Trooper Hilton said on the stand that day that all the actions he took were to arrest the doctor without being harmed.

“There’s nothing magical about (my) gun that says he can’t take that out of the holster and shoot me or someone else,” he said gravely. “I worry about that every single time I put that uniform on.”

Dr. Gonzalez is alleging civil counts of excessive force and assault and battery against all four troopers. He’s filed a motion to allow the jury to hear of “prior bad acts” of Trooper Hilton, but those documents have been filed under seal and are not public.

Source: https://www.telegram.com/news/20181020/state-trooper-recommended-for-prosecution-by-judge-slated-for-civil-brutality-trial

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5646 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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