A former Lancaster police officer testified Wednesday at his assault trial that he repeatedly punched a teenager at a New Year's Eve party only because the teen lunged at him and he feared for his safety.
Andrew T. Gill, charged with misdemeanor assault in the Jan. 1, 2010, incident, took the stand in his own defense, producing the most dramatic moments of the two-day trial in Tonawanda Town Court when he was cross-examined by Assistant District Attorney G. Michael Drmacich.
While Justin Mangold, who suffered a broken nose at Gill's hands, previously testified he did nothing to provoke such a violent response, Gill said Wednesday that Mangold was the alcohol-fueled aggressor in the confrontation.
"He came at me in a boxing stance with his fists up. His eyes, he still had that stare in his eyes," Gill said with little emotion, adding, "I didn't hit him any more than five times."
The eight jurors will decide whether they believe Gill's self-defense claim after they receive the case today following closing arguments.
Gill was 23 at the time of the incident, which occurred at about 3 a.m. at a home on Via Donato East in Lancaster. The trial was moved to the Town of Tonawanda because of Gill's law enforcement ties in Lancaster, where his father, Gerald, is the chief of police and at the time was a detective lieutenant.
Gill was a probationary police officer who had just finished his eighth shift as a Lancaster police officer on the evening of Dec. 31, 2009.
He testified that after finishing work, he had two beers at another party before arriving at the Via Donato East home, where a friend lived. He opened another beer before going into the basement, where Mangold, who was then 17, had been playing "beer pong" with acquaintances.
Mangold, who testified Tuesday, and two of his acquaintances, Nathan Willis and Derek Chojnacki, who appeared in court Wednesday, all said Gill attacked Mangold without warning. The three said Mangold and Gill began talking when Gill took Mangold's spot in the "beer pong" game.
Gill, they said, accused Mangold of hurting Gill's younger brother in a football game, then told Mangold he could beat him up and not suffer any legal consequences because he was a police officer.
After Mangold responded sarcastically and turned toward a nearby couch, Willis and Chojnacki testified, Gill grabbed Mangold and punched him 10 or 15 times without any response from Mangold.
Gill, however, testified it was Mangold who approached him drunkenly, spitting as he spoke and staring at him intensely. He said Chojnacki tried to separate him from Mangold, and he punched Mangold only after Mangold took a fighting stance and broke free from Chojnacki's grasp.
Both Drmacich and defense attorney Patrick J. Brown tried to discredit the testimony of the witnesses on the other side of the case. Brown noted that Willis and Chojnacki never mentioned in their written statement to police that they heard Gill say his police job would allow him to beat up Mangold and get away with it.
Drmacich questioned whether Gill was academically qualified to be a police officer -- he attended two colleges without earning a degree at either one -- and whether his family connections greased his way onto the force. In addition to his father's position, Gill's uncle, William G. Cansdale, Jr., is the mayor of the Village of Lancaster.
"I scored well on the civil service exam," Gill replied.
No departmental charges were ever filed against Gill, who resigned in January 2010 soon after he was charged with third-degree assault. He is currently a student at the University of Cincinnati and told Drmacich he is keeping open his options for a future career as a police officer or lawyer. He faces up to one year in jail if found guilty of the misdemeanor charge.