MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee County judge has ruled that redacted police video footage involving a former Milwaukee police officer, charged in the off-duty death of a man last year, can be released. The order comes after the man's family sued for the records to be made public.
An attorney for the family of Joel Acevedo heralded the ruling Wednesday, May 5, as a victory for transparency; while attorneys for the former officer said they will consider "all options" to protect their client's right to a fair trial.
In a written order filed with the court Tuesday, May 4, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Pocan acknowledged that while Michael Mattioli’s criminal proceedings are ongoing, the records deserve scrutiny.
"At the time of the incident, Mr. Mattioli was a police officer. Police officers must necessarily expect close public scrutiny," Pocan wrote. "Even though Mr. Mattioli was off duty, the Acevedos raised a point at the hearing for this matter regarding whether Mr. Mattioli was holding himself out as a police officer based on the 911 call which has already been released. The Court further needs to consider the public’s legitimate interest in policing. There is a strong public interest in scrutinizing the actions of public employees, such as police officers."
However, Pocan ordered for Mattioli's image and voice to be redacted from responding officers' body-worn cameras and dashboard camera footage.
Police were called to Mattioli’s home near 45th and Cleveland on the city’s south side on April 19, 2020. Officers found Mattioli straddling 25-year-old Joel Acevedo, who was on his stomach and not breathing and did not have a pulse, according to a criminal complaint.
Off-duty police officer involved in fight that left 25-year-old man seriously injured near 45th and Cleveland
Mattioli told investigators he had some people over for drinks the night before and woke up to find Acevedo going through his pants pockets, so he told Acevedo to get out of his house. Mattioli said Acevedo denied stealing and punched another man as he left, and Mattioli got on top of him and called 911.
Acevedo died six days later. His death was ruled a homicide.
Mattioli, 33, resigned from the Milwaukee Police Department in September and was charged the same day with first-degree reckless homicide.
Acevedo’s family filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department and the city’s Fire and Police Commission in December of last year, demanding body-cam video and the recording of the 911 call.
The 911 call was released in December, but Mattioli fought the release of the body and dashboard camera footage, arguing it would deprive him of a fair trial.
Family gathers outside the home where Joel Acevedo was placed in a chokehold by former Milwaukee police officer Michael Mattioli.
Acevedo's death has been a local rallying cry in the city over the past year as social justice and policing reform movements were sparked across the world following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter last month.
"That was a great stride toward social justice and I think that as we continue to go this route with Joel Acevedo, this is obviously renewing optimism in our judicial system and also the efforts of the community," said Acevedo family attorney B'Ivory LaMarr Wednesday afternoon.
While LaMarr would have preferred the footage to be released without redactions, he said the court's decision is a step in the right direction.
"So I think this has been a great effort by the continued press, the community, the advocacy that we’ve seen, and we’ll take the small victories as we go along and keep putting pressure."
Craig S. Powell and Michael F. Hart, who represent Mattioli in both the civil and criminal cases, had argued the Acevedo family have a history of publicizing the investigative materials, that pretrial publicity has been an issue and a release of the footage would interfere with criminal case.
"We are in the process of reviewing Judge Pocan’s decision and will consider all options going forward as we continue to work to protect Mr. Mattioli’s constitutional right to a fair trial," Powell and Hart said when reached for comment about the ruling.
Pocan writes that it is in the public interest to release the records and that outweighs most privacy concerns. However, Pocan notes he is concerned the publication of Mattioli’s image in the footage, along with audio statements he made, as it would reasonably be expected to interfere with receiving a fair trial.
"Accordingly, while the videos should be released, Mr. Mattioli’s image in the videos should be redacted, i.e. blocked or blurred out. Mr. Mattioli has a right under the Fifth Amendment not to testify at his trial. The release of the audio of Mr. Mattioli in the requested footage may contain statements that could jeopardize his right to an impartial trial."
The Milwaukee Police Department said Wednesday afternoon that the footage requested is in the process of being redacted and will be released as soon as it is completed.
Mattioli's next court date is set for June 4.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.