Source: Edited 911 dispatch audio missing critical context in case involving officer accused of excessive force

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HARTFORD, MI — The girlfriend of a former Hartford Police Department officer, who was accused of excessive force by the State of Michigan Attorney General’s (AG) Office, is speaking out on behalf of Matthew Mistretta.

Mistretta was charged by Michigan AG Dana Nessel on May 25, 2021 with two counts of assault and battery, a 93-day misdemeanor, and one count of misconduct in office by a public official, a five-year felony, according to an AG press release.

The charges were levied against Mistretta for an incident that occurred nine months earlier, according to a FOX 17 report.

Mistretta eventually lost his job and is potentially facing years in prison if found guilty.

The AG’s office told FOX 17:

“Our reasons for charging Mr. Mistretta were laid out at his preliminary hearing. The testimony of the witnesses and the video of the assault by Mistretta convinced the district court that probable cause existed to send the case to circuit court.

“We look forward to continuing our prosecution in this matter.”

Mistretta’s girlfriend spoke with Law Enforcement Today to bring another perspective to this case since he can no longer speak about his situation due to a gag order, which was issued last September.

She requested her real name not be used, so for the purpose of this article she will be referred to as “Kelly.”

Kelly has law enforcement experience and noted that it is important for the public to understand what goes through a police officer’s mind during dangerous situations.

She also suggested that it is easy for some people to be Monday morning quarterbacks who are criticizing police officers “from a comfortable, safe space.”

Two men arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a Chicago cop after shooting him during a traffic stop

Kelly pointed out that the suspect who Mistretta placed into custody was later charged with killing a teenager, yet has been wrongly portrayed as a victim:

“I can’t help but imagine how solid this case could have been.

“What are the chances of stopping a suspect fleeing the scene of a murder before it is even reported and successfully getting him in custody, only to then have the case flipped around and turn the murderer into a victim?” 

The background of this case involves an arrest that Mistretta made in August of 2020.

At least one video of the arrest was taken and posted on social media, including Snapchat. News stations, such as FOX 17, also showed the footage.

Last June, AG Nessel provided a press release, which announced:

“Bystander video of the resulting incident showed Mistretta removing a male driver from the truck, shoving him into the side of the truck to handcuff him and then slamming him onto the hood of the patrol car.

“Mistretta then proceeded to take the individual to the ground and knelt on him in a similar manner to the George Floyd murder.

“At no point during the arrest was the man resisting or obstructing Mistretta, according to video evidence. A passenger in the truck reported hearing the driver tell Mistretta he couldn’t breathe.”

The man Mistretta was arresting in the video was identified as 21-year-old Lauro Espino.

FOX 17 reported that Espino did not complain about breathing issues or his arrest at the time of the incident.

Prior to the gag order, Mistretta was interviewed by FOX 17 and told the news station that Espino was driving fast and erratically down Red Arrow highway. Since Espino appeared to be driving drunk, Mistretta pulled him over.

Mistretta was alone when he pulled the vehicle over, which contained Espino and a male passenger.

Mistretta told FOX 17 that he was told over his radio that Espino was involved in a nearby homicide scene. The homicide victim was 17-year-old Jesus De La Rosa.

The complete 911 dispatch audio has not been made available by the state to Mistretta’s defense, according to FOX 17’s report.

Kelly confirmed that the 911 dispatch audio that was released is an edited version, which is missing critical context:

“The unedited comms [communications] include Matt’s partner — who had left the traffic stop to respond to the homicide scene approximately 1.6 miles away — stating that he thought Matt had the shooter on his traffic stop. 

“It is worth noting for clarity that De La Rosa had been run over by a truck so the first officer on scene initially thought the victim had been shot in the head.”

Mistretta had previously said the entire 911 audio tape is an important key to understand what happened that night and told FOX 17:

“I was told over my radio, ‘You have my shooter at a traffic stop,’ something to that effect.”

However, it turned out that there was no shooting. It was later determined that De La Rosa died after being run over by a vehicle, FOX 17 reported. Espino was charged in connection with the death of the teen.

Mistretta was alarmed and told FOX 17 he saw a passenger, a bloody lead pipe in the car and observed that Espino smelled of alcohol and was bleeding from the head. He further noted:

“Here I am, as a single officer, with two suspects in the car, that I was just told shot someone in the face. He’s covered in blood.”

FOX 17 reported that this information was not admissible in court on Sept. 2 for Mistretta’s preliminary hearing.

Kelly also confirmed that critical information was deemed inadmissible, impacting Mistretta’s case negatively:

“Anything prior to Matt’s traffic stop has not been admissible in court.

“Essentially, the fact that Espino had just murdered someone and fled the scene is not being considered as justification for Matt’s use of force.

“The case is being looked at as though Matt had no idea Espino had just murdered someone and potentially had the murder weapon(s)/firearm inside the vehicle.

“Had the comms not been edited, the judge in the preliminary examination would see in the transcription that Matt’s partner informed him that he likely had the homicide suspect on the traffic stop.”

According to the FOX 17 report, Espino invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to not incriminate himself and is currently out on bond awaiting trial for the death of De La Rosa. That case is being prosecuted by Van Buren County.

Kelly also pointed out that even though Espino was charged months before Mistretta was, somehow the former police officer had his pre-examination hearing held before Espino had his. She said the timing of Mistretta’s hearing occurring before Espino’s had another negative impact on the officer’s case:

“In layman’s terms, when Matt had his pre-examination in September, he was somehow months ahead of Espino in the legal process.

“Espino had been charged months before Matt. During Matt’s pre-exam, the prosecutor for the Attorney General’s office was able to question Espino at length.

“When Matt’s attorney began to question Espino, he was unable to do so because the prosecutor suddenly remembered Espino had not been to his pre-examination and objected to the questioning from Matt’s defense attorney.”

Kelly also questioned what took place during the hearing on Sept. 2. She watched as the prosecutor questioned Espino’s passenger on the stand while a clip of Mistretta with his knee allegedly on the suspect’s body was on display, frozen on a screen: 

“The pre-exam was infuriating to watch for this reason as well as the fact that evidence — the video — was left on the screen while witnesses were being questioned by the prosecutor.

“It was an absolute clown show and one of the most unprofessional courtrooms I have ever witnessed as I watched the judge speak to the prosecutor as though they were old friends.”

Mistretta told FOX 17 that Espino “intentionally leapt” at him. The video shows a scuffle between Espino and Mistretta after the suspect was allegedly handcuffed.

FOX 17 reported that the AG’s office compared Mistretta’s actions with that of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s in the George Floyd case because at one point during the video, Mistretta appears to place a knee upon the body of Espino.

The report noted that Espino never complained about Mistretta’s use of force.

Mistretta told FOX 17 that he did not place his knee anywhere near Espino’s neck and did not like how his actions were compared to Chauvin’s. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said Chauvin knelt on Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd died while under Chauvin’s custody.

The video FOX 17 played appears to show Mistretta using his shoulder mic or radio while restraining Espino with his knee and possibly watching Espino’s passenger as well.

Kelly told Law Enforcement Today the video clip does not show what the passenger was doing:

“The passenger was outside of the truck reaching in his pockets while Matt was using his knee as control, letting dispatch know that he had one in custody.

“Matt was also shouting for the passenger to get back inside the vehicle seeing as he was the only officer on scene.”

Mistretta told FOX 17 that making any comparisons with Chauvin is wrong and misleading:

“Of course, the George Floyd murder was an absolute, horrible act that was completed upon that man. I have no sympathy for Derek Chauvin whatsoever.

“But the comparison to me compared to him [Chauvin], simply for placing my knee on a suspect, and not even in the same region of that person’s body…it’s appalling to me.”

Mistretta further said:

“Last time I checked, one person died that night. His name was Jesus De La Rosa.”

Facebook/Meta comments on a Sept. 2, 2021 news report from FOX 17 included the following.

A user named Robert Charles wrote:

“Truck driver…the criminal killed someone and fled the scene of the accident. The jury should see this for what it is…Dana the radical bent on pursuing her political and social justice prosecutions. This officer did nothing wrong from what is captured on the video.”

Another user, Ta Ti, posted in memory of the teenager who was allegedly run over by Espino:

“#justiceforJesus.”

In response to FOX 17’s Sept. 8, 2021 article, Facebook/Meta users generally supported Mistretta’s actions.

User Carol J Mason wrote:

“It’s one against two….and one of the two is a killer? What the hell was he supposed to do?”

LeahKay Wilson wrote:

“Wow.. so he took down a murderer and this is what happens….”

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A person claiming to be De La Rosa’s cousin, Jennifer Gonzalez, posted:

“My Cousin was Jesus Delarosa The Person That Died That Night He Was Killed Lauro Espino went to His Home with Another Person And Beated up My Uncle With a Bat left him in the Floor And Ran over my Cousin on purpose And Went thru a Light pole hitting him and Killing Him.”

In a separate post, Gonzalez accused Espino of having “no remorse”:

“His Out On Bond With No Remorse Still Looking for Problems Provoking The Parents of Jesus Delarosa.”

Kelly provided a link to a legal defense fund for Mistretta.

Mistretta’s trial is scheduled to begin April 20, but a motion to dismiss hearing is scheduled in March due to an alleged violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

Espino’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 19.

AG Nessel’s official biography notes that she is a former criminal prosecutor and civil rights attorney. She was sworn in as Michigan’s 54th Attorney General on Jan. 1, 2019.

The biography further notes:

“Since taking office, Attorney General Nessel has been a champion of the state’s most important resource – its Great Lakes. Her environmental protection division is actively fighting to ensure clean air, water and energy for Michigan’s residents so that our most valuable assets are preserved for generations to come.

“She has also joined the battle to combat the largest public health crisis in the nation – prescription drug addiction — and to stem the tide of Michigan’s biggest environmental crisis in decades – PFAS contamination.

“As the State’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Attorney General Nessel launched Michigan’s Elder Abuse Task Force, in partnership with the Michigan Supreme Court, to stop the rise of crimes against one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

“She has continued the Department’s criminal investigations into the Flint Water Crisis and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

“And, she has created a Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate claims of innocence so that even when we prosecute the state’s most heinous crimes, we can ensure the public’s trust in our criminal justice system.

“A graduate of the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Law School, Attorney General Nessel lives in southeast Michigan with her wife, Alanna Maguire, and her twin sons, Alex and Zach.”

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