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Assault trial of former Lancaster officer opens with testimony from victim

The trial of a former Lancaster police officer accused of beating up a teenager at a New Year's Eve party began Tuesday in Tonawanda Town Court.

On the first day of the trial, Justin Mangold testified he did nothing to provoke Andrew T. Gill before Gill punched him 15 to 20 times in an assault that left Mangold with a broken nose, two black eyes and a fat lip.

But Gill's attorney, Patrick J. Brown, said his client was acting in self-defense and argued Mangold isn't telling the full truth about the Jan. 1, 2010, incident because he wants to win the civil lawsuit he's filed against the town, Gill and other parties.

"When you go to punch somebody, that's the risk you run," Brown said in his opening statement.

Gill is charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, in the incident that took place nearly 15 months ago on Via Donato Drive in the Town of Lancaster.

The long-delayed trial was moved to Tonawanda Town Court because of Gill's law enforcement ties in Lancaster. Gill was a probationary police officer who had begun patrol work for the department shortly before the incident. He resigned days after he was charged.

His father, Gerald, was a lieutenant in the Lancaster Police Detective Bureau at the time of his son's arrest and now is chief of the department.

"We're grateful that Andy has his chance to present his evidence in a court of law," the elder Gill told reporters outside court.

A large contingent of Gill's family members and other supporters, and a smaller number of Mangold relatives, attended the opening session of a trial that is expected to take at least two days.

Asked what outcome they were looking for, both Mangold's father, Joe, and grandmother, June, had the same brief answer when interviewed outside the courtroom: "Justice."

Tuesday, a jury of six men and two women was seated after several hours of questioning of prospective jurors by Town Justice J. Mark Gruber, the defense attorney and prosecutors G. Michael Drmacich and Christopher Jurusik.

In his opening statement, Drmacich conceded that Mangold and other witnesses had been drinking alcohol that night, even though they weren't legally old enough, but he said the prosecution would present reliable testimony showing Gill is guilty of assaulting Mangold with the intent to hurt him.

Brown, in his argument, said Gill was justified in punching Mangold because the teenager, fueled by "beer muscles," had threatened him.

Mangold, who was 17 at the time, testified that he had four shots of vodka and eight half cups of beer over the course of that evening, a night during which he played rounds of "beer pong" at two different homes.

He was hanging out with some friends in a home on the same street when they were invited to the house where he was later punched.

Mangold said he was in the basement, playing a game of beer pong, when Gill -- who is friends with the homeowners' two oldest sons -- came downstairs sometime after 3 a.m.

Gill, who was 23 at the time, and Mangold began to talk and Gill accused Mangold of hurting his younger brother in an earlier incident.

Mangold, in crude terms, denied ever doing anything to Gill's brother, and he testified that Gill then told him, "I'm a cop. I could kick your [butt] and get away with it."

Mangold said he didn't believe Gill, who wasn't in uniform and didn't display his badge, and said, "Yeah, right, OK, tough guy."

Mangold said he began to turn away to sit down on a couch when Gill cold-cocked him with a punch to the face, fell on top of him on the couch and punched him 15 to 20 times while Mangold tried to protect his face.

In his questioning of Mangold, Brown tried to focus on inconsistencies in Mangold's statements to police and an emergency room doctor regarding his alcohol consumption. Mangold and his friends didn't immediately report the assault because they didn't want to get in trouble with their parents for drinking alcohol.

No charges were brought for underage drinking in the case, which was investigated after Mangold told what had happened later that morning, but Mangold lost his spot on the Lancaster High School swim team once he confessed to consuming alcohol.

Brown also asked Mangold if he remembered that one of his friends had tried to intervene to separate Mangold from Gill, but Mangold said he didn't recall that happening.

"You challenged [Gill], didn't you?" Brown asked Mangold.

"Not once," Mangold replied.

The defense attorney also pressed Mangold on the lawsuit he filed against Gill's former employer, the Town of Lancaster; Gill himself; and the owners of the home where the party took place. Brown pointed to the suit as motivation for Mangold to falsely present himself as an innocent victim, but Mangold said he is telling the truth and the suit is really the work of his father.

"I'm just following my father's direction," Mangold said.

Dr. Michael DiBella, the physician who treated Mangold in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital's emergency room, also testified Tuesday.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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