Ex-Judge Ryan Takes the Stand; Police Cross-Examined
Mike Ryan’s lawyer filed a motion to throw out the case, claiming that a city police detective intimidated a defense witness during a taped interview at police headquarters. The judge dismissed the motion and said the witness can testify.
NORTHAMPTON — Lawyer W. Michael Ryan, 64, a retired district court judge and former district attorney, took the stand in his own defense Monday in Northampton District Court. Ryan is charged with assault and battery on a police officer and disorderly conduct stemming from an Oct. 15 incident in a downtown parking lot.
Ryan testified he was preparing to change a flat tire in a downtown parking lot when he was approached by bicycle Patrolman Andrew Kohl, who had Ryan in handcuffs less than 10 minutes later. Despite officer testimony on the stand, Ryan said he was not intoxicated.
The car, Ryan said, was owned and driven by his law partner, Barbara Jean “B. J.” Plante, who had parked it behind the Hampshire County Hall of Records off King Street. In contradiction to police reports in the case, Ryan said Plante’s car was turned off before officers arrived.
“Belligerent” Behavior and Altered Police Reports
Ryan is being defended by his longtime friend Aaron “Benny” Wilson of Holyoke, and the case is being prosecuted by Joseph A. Yorlano of the Berkshire District Attorney’s office. Plymouth Superior Court Judge Charles J. Hely was appointed by the trial court to hear the case.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette, a local newspaper, reports that Wilson, in his opening arguments on Monday morning, said that Ryan did not slap, jab at, or threaten Kohl, but was merely reaching for his wallet. For his part, Yorlano charged that Ryan was “making a scene” in the parking lot and had struck Kohl.
On the stand later in the day, four police officers said Ryan “slapped” the wrist of Kohl after the officer pat-frisked Ryan and then removed his wallet. Three officers said that Ryan then raised his right hand in a threatening manner as if to strike Kohl before he was arrested.
Patrolman Dennis Liptak said that Ryan and Plante both appeared “highly intoxicated” and that Ryan was being “argumentative and belligerent.” Liptak, who arrived in a police cruiser after Kohl called for backup, said he prevented Ryan from leaving the scene.
“I didn’t feel it was safe for the defendant or the public to have an intoxicated person walking around downtown Northampton,” said Liptak.
Kohl testified that the pat-frisk was necessary for officer safety, and that he removed Ryan’s wallet in order to search for weapons, the Gazette reported.
Wilson’s defense in the afternoon centered around whether police officers Dennis Liptak and Paul Marguet, who had been talking with Plante during the incident with their heads turned, could accurately attest to events. Liptak testified that he saw Ryan slap Kohl “out of the corner of my eye,” but that he never saw a wallet.
“You were not looking at Officer Kohl and Ryan (during the pat frisk),” said Wilson. “No,” Liptak admitted.
Wilson also pointed out that police reports had been written at around 10:30 p.m. and modified less than an hour later. The officers admitted that, before they altered their reports, they gathered together in the “report room” to watch a video of Ryan’s arrest that shot from one of two police cruisers at the scene; they said the reports were modified only to correct “spelling and grammar errors.”
Wilson asked why Liptak’s testimony about Ryan’s state of intoxication and about his alleged “yelling and swearing” had not been included in his police report.
“If it’s not in there it’s not in there,” said Liptak.
Kohl, Liptak, and Marguet all said that Ryan referred to himself as “Michael W. Ryan,” which is not Ryan’s name. Upon questioning by Wilson, Liptak and Kohl said the reports were not in error, but that Ryan himself had spoken his name incorrectly.
Kohl also testified that, after he had finished booking Ryan, he texted his wife, who was out on the town in Northampton with a Holyoke police officer and his wife, and told her that he had arrested Ryan.
Wilson showed the police officers still photographs and excerpts from the police cruiser video documenting the arrest, and asked them to correlate aspects of their written police reports with the visual evidence.
During questioning by Yorlano and Wilson, the jury, consisting of six women and two men, revealed little emotion or response.
Ryan Starts To Tell His Story
Ryan took the witness stand late in the afternoon, and court was adjourned before he could talk about his arrest. But he did get a chance to tell the jury about the chain of events leading up to the incident.
Under oath, Ryan said that he and his law partner had been in Orange District Court on the morning of Oct. 15, finished up some work for two Holyoke clients in the afternoon, and then had a beer at the Holyoke American Legion with one of Ryan’s old law school buddies. At around 7 p.m., Ryan said, he and Plante repaired to Northampton, where they consumed more drinks at the Tunnel Bar on Strong Avenue.
“I had a glass of wine and a single malt scotch,” said Ryan. “She (Plante) was going to drop me off at my home and go to her home.”
According to Ryan, Plante complained of being light-headed from drinking wine after she had driven only a couple hundred yards, and pulled off Main Street, planning to park the car and call for a ride home. At that point, said Ryan, they realized the car had a flat tire.
Unable to find a parking spot, Ryan recalled, Plante stopped the car in the probate court parking lot, where Ryan told her to turn off the car and put it in neutral, and pulled recyclables and clothes destined for the Goodwill from the trunk, looking for a spare, a jack, and a tire iron.
It was at that point that Kohl approached the two.
Judge Hely told lawyers and the jury that the prosecution must show unwanted, intentional touching in order to convict on a battery charge. If found guilty, Ryan could face 90 days to two-and-a-half years in a house of correction or a fine of up to $5,000.
Another Twist, Another Video (or Two)
In another twist, Wilson filed an oral motion to dismiss the case, charging that Northampton Police Det. Peter Fappiano had intimidated a witness over the weekend during a videotaped interview at police headquarters on Center Street.
The potential witness, a Tunnel Bar bartender, was going to testify that Ryan and Plante were not intoxicated, said Wilson.
Hely watched the video alone in chambers. Back in the courtroom, he denied the motion, but told Wilson that the bartender could be forced to testify.
Court officials said that, because this latest video has not yet been submitted as evidence in the case, it will not be released to the press right away.
It was not clear yesterday whether prosecutor Yorlano intends to introduce yet another videotape, a lengthy one showing Ryan during his booking at police headquarters.
Ryan is scheduled to tell the rest of his story on Tuesday morning.
© 2011 Northampton Media
Mary Serreze can be reached at email@example.com