Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Court Rejects Appeal from Imprisoned Ex-Police Sergeant Officer Convicted of Beating Drunken Teen

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Court Rejects Appeal from Imprisoned Ex-Police Sergeant Officer Convicted of Beating Drunken Teen

Article excerpt

A former Pittsburgh police sergeant convicted in federal court of beating up a drunken teen outside of Heinz Field in 2015 has lost his appeal.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled against Stephen Matakovich, who is serving 27 months at a federal prison in North Carolina.

Matakovich was convicted of using excessive force in assaulting Gabriel Despres, then 19, on Nov. 28, 2015, during high school playoffs at the stadium.

The jury acquitted him of a second count of falsifying a report after the incident.

Matakovich had argued at trial and again before the appellate court that the force he used was not excessive. At trial he and his lawyer had insisted that he shoved and then punched Mr. Despres because he thought Mr. Despres was going to attack him.

The jury sided with the prosecution in deciding that Mr. Despres, while drunk and uncooperative, posed no threat.

In his appeal, Matakovich said U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon was wrong to deny his motion for judgment of acquittal because of a lack of evidence supporting the excessive force charge.

But a three-judge panel rejected all of his reasons.

"None of these arguments are persuasive, given the overwhelming amount of corroborated evidence," wrote Judge Richard Nygaard.

Matakovich argued that the U.S. attorney's office portrayed him as the aggressor by improperly introducing evidence from nearby witnesses of his temperament that night. He said those descriptions prejudiced the jury against him because as a trained officer only he could see the threat that Mr. Despres presented.

Judge Nygaard, writing for himself and judges Thomas Vanaskie and Kent Jordan, said there are times when an officer's observations trump those of untrained witnesses. …

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