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Ex-officer convicted in teen attack

Andrew T. Gill, the former Lancaster police officer accused of beating up a teenager at a New Year's Eve house party, showed no emotion Thursday afternoon as the jury foreman read the guilty verdict at Gill's trial on a misdemeanor assault charge.

Gill had testified that he repeatedly punched Justin Mangold in the face and body -- leaving him with a broken nose, black eyes and fat lip -- in the Jan. 1, 2010, confrontation only because he feared for his safety after he said a drunken Mangold threatened to attack him.

The six-member jury rejected Gill's self-defense claim and found him guilty of the only charge he faced, third-degree assault, following a 2 1/2 -day trial in Tonawanda Town Court. Gill, 24, faces up to one year in jail when he is sentenced July 7.

"It's been quite an ordeal," Gill's father, Gerald, the Lancaster chief of police, told The Buffalo News after the trial.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III praised the work of prosecutors G. Michael Drmacich and Christopher Jurusik. He said the case shows his office doesn't give favorable treatment to police officials accused of crimes.

"It's always tragic when someone who is sworn to uphold the law becomes criminally prosecuted and convicted, particularly when he comes from a family that has such a good reputation and is so well-respected in the law enforcement community," Sedita said in an interview.

The long-delayed trial was moved to the Town of Tonawanda, where Town Justice J. Mark Gruber presided, because of the law enforcement ties of Gill and his father in Lancaster where the incident occurred.

While both sides agreed that Mangold was badly injured by Gill -- and that Gill was not punched by Mangold -- they presented conflicting accounts of what was said and done in the moments immediately preceding the confrontation.

The incident took place at about 3 a.m. at a party attended by teens and young adults on Via Donato East in Lancaster.

Gill, who had started working as a probationary Lancaster patrol officer two weeks earlier, had just finished a work shift a few hours before.

Mangold and three other acquaintances were in the basement and had just finished playing a drinking game known as "beer pong" when Gill came downstairs.

Gill testified that Mangold acted drunk and confrontational and responded with a taunting "OK, tough guy" when Gill, who was 23 at the time, informed Mangold, who was 17, that he was a police officer. Gill said he punched Mangold after Mangold broke free from the grasp of a peacemaking friend and came at Gill with his fists raised.

But Mangold and his acquaintances Nathan Willis and Derek Chojnacki, who were also in the basement, testified that Gill was angry at Mangold because he believed Mangold had hurt Gill's younger brother in a football game.

Mangold never threw a punch and was treated in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst, for his injuries. He didn't initially report the assault because he didn't want to get in trouble for underage drinking.

Jurors heard testimony in the case Tuesday and Wednesday, and Drmacich and defense attorney Patrick J. Brown gave their closing arguments Thursday morning.

"We know Andy Gill punched him in the nose," Brown said in his summation. "The real issue in the case is: Did Andy act in self-defense or not?"

Brown challenged the credibility of Mangold's acquaintances and said Mangold was motivated to lie on the stand by the civil lawsuit he has filed against Gill, Town of Lancaster police and the family that owns the house on Via Donato East.

But Drmacich said the suit was a non-issue -- "You really think there's big money in a broken nose?" -- and contended Gill didn't act reasonably in responding so violently to the perceived threat from Mangold.

"Don't let him get away with it. He is not above the law," Drmacich told the jurors.

The jurors deliberated for about two hours, with one break when they asked to return to the courtroom to hear the judge again read his instructions on what constitutes third-degree assault and justification, or self-defense.

Brown said he will decide after sentencing whether to appeal the conviction.

Gill, who resigned from the Lancaster police force soon after he was charged, is unlikely to get the maximum sentence of one year in jail, since this is his first offense and he was convicted of misdemeanor assault.

Drmacich and Jurusik deferred comment on the possible sentence to Sedita, who said he will wait to read the presentencing investigation report before deciding whether to make a sentencing recommendation to the judge.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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