LOCKPORT – Friday was a good news-bad news day for David J. Mongielo.
A jury acquitted him of resisting arrest and other counts, except for a charge of using a cellphone while driving, in connection with a June 27 incident when he was injured by Lockport police who pulled him from his pickup truck at a traffic checkpoint.
But 3½ hours later, Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said he was inclined to lift a stay of a 10-day jail sentence imposed on Mongielo, owner of an auto repair shop, for violating the Town of Lockport’s law against flashing signs.
Mongielo, 47, sobbed at the defense table when the City Court jury’s verdict in the traffic case was read shortly after 1 p.m., following two hours and 40 minutes of deliberations.
The six-member jury found Mongielo not guilty of resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, harassment and a second cellphone violation. A charge of driving with an expired registration was dismissed during the trial.
“I was always innocent. I trusted God would stand behind me,” Mongielo said.
A male juror who asked not to be identified said, “I feel justice was carried out. I hate to see citizens made into criminals.”
Mongielo, on his second trip through the Lincoln Avenue roadblock, asked if this was Nazi Germany and said the roadblock violated his rights. Officer William E. Jones said Mongielo refused repeated requests to hand over his license, registration and insurance card, and wouldn’t exit the vehicle, either. Mongielo testified that Jones bashed his face into the pavement five or six times by kneeing him in the back of his head after taking him to the ground,
But Jones and Officer Kevin S. Lucinski differed on exactly when they told Mongielo he was under arrest. Mongielo said he was never told that.
The juror said, “You have to know clearly when you’re put under arrest before it’s resisting.”
City Judge William J. Watson, who presided over the four-day trial, imposed the maximum $150 fine and an $88 state surcharge on Mongielo for using a cellphone while driving, and ordered it paid by May 7. Mongielo could have gone to jail for a year if he had been convicted of resisting or obstructing.
“We regard this as a vindication of our client and a demonstration of how well the jury system works,” defense attorney Frank T. Housh said.
But in the same courtroom later in the day, Murphy said he was “inclined to vacate the order” he had issued Jan. 22, blocking Mongielo’s 10-day jail sentence on the sign ordinance violation pending an appeal.
That’s because Housh sent his notice of appeal to the wrong place.
Tilney had imposed the jail sentence Jan. 21 for Mongielo’s violation of a conditional discharge on a previous sign law violation at his Robinson Road shop. Tilney also dismissed a second set of sign charges against Mongielo, saying he didn’t intend to impose more jail time even if Mongielo were convicted.
Housh said his assistant looked up the Town of Lockport online and sent the appeal notice to “Nancy Brooks, Clerk of Court.”
But Brooks isn’t the court clerk; she’s the town clerk. The letter was stamped received by Brooks Jan. 31, well within the 30-day appeal window, but last week Town Justice Leonard G. Tilney informed Murphy that Town Court never received the notice of appeal.
Town Court is located in a building next to Town Hall, where Brooks works. Mongielo said Brooks “knew where it had to go. Why did she purposely not walk it across the parking lot?”
Murphy ordered Town Prosecutor Bradley D. Marble to report to him next Friday on that very question. But Murphy said appellate court rulings “are fairly absolute” when it comes to incorrect appeal paperwork: it’s invalid.
“I now wish I had gone to the courthouse myself,” Housh said.
He and Marble agreed that Mongielo will go to jail next Friday if the stay is lifted. Marble said no further appeal of Mongielo’s conviction for violating the sign law will be allowed because the time limit has run out.