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Ex-Streamwood cop says he beat unarmed man with baton out of fear

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

A former Streamwood cop charged with felony aggravated battery and official misconduct was in fear of his life when he beat an unarmed man 15 times with his baton during a traffic stop, the former officer testified Monday.

Taking the stand in his bench trial at Rolling Meadows courthouse, Corp. James Mandarino said “my heart was pounding” during the confrontation with Ronald Bell, Bell’s brother Stacey and Bell’s buddy Nolan Stalbaum on Bell’s driveway on March 28 last year.

“Red flags were going off everywhere,” Mandarino said of the moments after he pulled over Ronald Bell for reckless driving in the early hours of the morning.

After Ronald Bell and Stalbaum ignored his repeated orders to remain in Bell’s black SUV during the traffic stop, Mandarino feared they would team up with Bell’s brother — who had emerged from his home during the commotion — and surround him.

Mandarino feared that “at any moment [Bell] could rush me,” he told Judge Thomas Fecarotta.

“If I end up on the ground, I could be killed or seriously injured.”

He said he was forced to use his baton to get a kneeling Ronald Bell to lay flat on the floor because he had already discharged his only Taser cartridge to subdue Stalbaum.

Video footage from Mandarino’s squad car — shown previously in the trial — shows Mandarino strike Ronald Bell in the head during the beating.

But testifying Monday as the video was played back at half speed, Mandarino said the blow was aimed at Bell’s shoulder and had “deflected” onto his head inadvertently.

He needed to get Ronald Bell to the ground because the position Bell was in on his knees with his hands on the floor was “a fighting stance ... like you’d see if you watch UFC,” he said, his face reddening.

Much of Mandarino’s testimony Monday concerned the missing soundtrack from the squad car video.

Mandarino insists Ronald Bell repeatedly ignored his orders and cursed at him during the traffic stop, but admits he failed to turn the squad car audio recorder on.

Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Mike Gerber ridiculed the former officer’s claim that Ronald Bell was the aggressor. After Mandarino agreed that he was used to dealing with obnoxious members of the public, Gerber asked him, “But you don’t usually have to hit them in the head, do you?”

Mandarino was fired in June from his $92,000 a year job because of the beating incident. He now works as a security guard for $10 an hour and is losing his Aurora home to foreclosure, he testified.

Also testifying Monday, former Lafayette, Ind., police captain Larry Danaher, who was paid $6,000 to act as an expert witness for the defense, told the judge “any reasonable officer” would have done the same thing in Mandarino’s situation.

The trial is due to continue Tuesday.

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