Montesanto

Former Geneva police officer Jack Montesanto walks out of the Public Safety Building Friday afternoon after he was sentenced to 15 days in jail for his misdemeanor conviction of criminal obstruction of breathing. The judge ordered Montesanto to report to the county jail by Monday to begin serving the sentence.

GENEVA — Saying “I take no pleasure in doing this,” a judge sentenced a former city police officer to jail for choking a woman more than two years ago.

“You abused your position of authority when it came to the victim in this case,” Judge Jackie Sisson Sherry told Jack Montesanto Friday in Geneva City Court. “She was clearly in distress and you simply lost control when you grabbed her by the throat. That is not conduct that can be tolerated.”

Moments later, Sisson Sherry sentenced Montesanto to 15 days in the Ontario County Jail on his misdemeanor conviction of criminal obstruction of breathing. He was found guilty by a jury after a September trial.

The case dates to July 2019, when Montesanto and another Geneva PD officer, Bret Steve, went to a Main Street apartment building to check on a complaint of loud music. They warned the resident, Maria Leach, but later arrested her for a noise violation and disorderly conduct when they returned after fielding another complaint.

Geneva PD Sgt. Nick Bielowicz, the shift supervisor, also went to the scene and testified during the trial that Leach was intoxicated and yelling profanities at officers.

Leach was taken to the Public Safety Building, where Montesanto choked her in a holding cell for about five seconds after a face-to-face confrontation that including yelling by both. The incident was caught on a police body camera and seen by the jury.

Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua learned of the incident two days later, suspended Montesanto with pay, and asked the Ontario County sheriff’s office to investigate the matter. That resulted in his arrest about a month later.

Passalacqua later placed Montesanto, a 10-year veteran of the GPD at the time, on unpaid suspension, which continued until he was convicted. He was fired a day after his conviction.

The case was delayed for many months, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ontario County First Assistant District Attorney Jason MacBride, who prosecuted the case, said Montesanto violated an oath to protect the people in his custody and care. He argued that Leach was vulnerable due to mental health and alcohol issues, and Montesanto’s crime wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment reaction.

“She was treated poorly, by both officers, from the outset of this incident,” MacBride said. “This was not a split-second mistake. The defendant’s language, his tone and behavior toward her was unbecoming of a police officer. It was demeaning behavior.”

MacBride said Montesanto has a history of violent behavior toward women.

“This was not a one-time thing,” he said. “Anger management is a problem with this defendant.”

While Leach was in attendance when Montesanto was convicted, she was not in court for Friday’s sentencing.

Montesanto’s attorney, Jon Getz, asked Sisson to sentence Montesanto to community service and probation instead of jail.

“Jail does him no good. It does the community no good. It’s punitive with no benefit for the community,” Getz said. “Community service and probation gives him some hope. He is not a threat to community.”

Getz said Montesanto has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to his years as a police officer, including an incident where he tried to revive a dead baby. Getz claimed the Geneva PD did not give Montesanto the support he needed after that incident.

“Jack has made it perfectly clear he wants help. He has sought treatment and continues to get treatment,” Getz said. “He is never going to work in law enforcement again, and he knows that. He does not take this lightly. I can’t speak for Jack ... but if he could go back and do it differently, he would.”

Montesanto was seen wiping his eyes and sniffling while Getz spoke on his behalf. When Sisson asked Montesanto if he wanted to say anything, he took a few moments before shaking his head, sobbing and saying “I can’t.”

“Those are not fake tears,” Getz said.

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