GENEVA — As the long-awaited trial of a Geneva police officer began Monday, the jury saw body camera footage of the alleged choking incident that led to his arrest.
The City Court trial of Jack Montesanto started after six jurors — three men and three women — were chosen Monday morning. The only testimony Monday afternoon came from Geneva Police Department Sgt. Nick Bielowicz, who was the supervising officer on the night shift in July 2019.
Bielowicz testified that on the night of July 22, Montesanto and Officer Bret Steve went to 326 Main St., an apartment building next to the National Guard Armory, to check on a complaint of loud music called in by a neighbor. The officers warned the residents and left, but returned during the early-morning hours of July 23 after fielding another call.
Bielowicz said he went to the scene after the second call and saw Steve arresting one of the residents — he identified the resident as Maria Leach — for violating the city noise ordinance and disorderly conduct. She was handcuffed and put in a patrol vehicle.
“She was intoxicated and creating a scene. There was a lot of profanity,” Bielowicz said. “She was screaming and yelling and banging her head on a screen after she was put in a patrol vehicle. We asked her to stop screaming and yelling, and said if she calmed down she could go home.”
Bielowicz said Steve and Montesanto took Leach to the police station. Meanwhile, Bielowicz talked to the neighbor before going to the police station. He later saw Montesanto, who said there was an “incident” at station and showed Bielowicz his arm. Bielowicz said he took photos of Montesanto’s arm — the jury saw the photos — and told Montesanto to go the hospital to have it “cleaned out.”
The jury then watched about 40 minutes of footage from Steve’s body camera, first at 326 Main St., then at the police station. While people watching the trial could not see the video, they could hear the interaction between police and Leach.
“Shut it off (the music) or you are going to get arrested,” Steve can be heard yelling at Leach. “(The neighbors) don’t want to deal with you, so they call us.”
“I did nothing wrong,” Leach can be heard screaming at officers before she was put in the patrol car, with her son trying to calm her down.
The confrontation continued at the police station, where Montesanto could be heard yelling at Leach. She continued using profanity toward the officers, while at other times she cried and apologized.
“I said go sit down. I told you to sit down five times,” Montesanto said.
“I’m sorry,” Leach responded. “Please let me go home.”
“I’ve tried to give you multiple chances, and you keep acting like this,” Steve added. “If you start behaving and acting like an adult, the sergeant may let you go home.”
A short time later, though, Steve was heard saying, “How did you get out of your cuffs?” Leach resumed screaming, yelling an obscenity at Montesanto and later saying, “You are in (expletive) trouble.”
That is believed to be about the time Montesanto’s arm was injured and he is accused of choking her.
The jury is expected to see video of the incident, this time from Montesanto’s body camera, on Tuesday. Other witnesses could be called after that.