Pa. CO accused of assaulting inmate found not guilty of excessive force

William Cappalonga claimed his actions were warranted to ensure the inmate didn't continue to attack COs during the 2018 incident


By Rich Cholodofsky
Tribune-Review

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. — A former Westmoreland County Prison guard was acquitted Thursday of criminal charges that he threatened and assaulted an inmate during a melee at the county lockup.

Jurors deliberated more than three hours in the trial of William Cappalonga, 26, of Belle Vernon before returning not guilty verdicts on charges of simple assault, official oppression and making terroristic threats.

Prosecutors said Cappalonga repeatedly slammed an inmate’s head to the ground and threatened to kill him after he was subdued. Cappalonga claimed his actions were warranted to ensure the inmate did not continue to attack guards during the Sept. 18, 2018, incident.

“He never felt he did anything improper,” defense attorney Brian Aston said afterward.

During the three-day trial before Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, prosecutors said Cappalonga was among a group of about 10 guards who responded after inmate Brian Rebold refused an order to return to his cell and attacked the jail’s K-9 officer.

Rebold was in the midst of a mental health crisis at the time, according to prosecutors.

As the officer’s dog latched on to Rebold’s arm, a swarm of guards rushed in and subdued the inmate. Prosecutors said Cappalonga then slammed Rebold’s head into the concrete floor five times and threatened to kill him for attacking the officer.

“I was trying to scare him. I tried to get across the point of how serious this is,” Cappalonga testified at trial.

Aston, in his closing argument, said Cappalonga’s actions were not a crime and compared it to activity at the bottom of a scrum of football players trying to recover a fumble. Aston told jurors his client was justified to control the inmate from further lashing out at guards.

“They have a thankless job,” Aston said. “They are not armed, and all they have is their wit, their charm and their brute muscle to hold on until (it is) over.”

Video of the incident, played multiple times during the trial, showed Cappalonga kneeling over the inmate after he was handcuffed and shackled. The video appears to show Cappalonga push the inmate’s head to the floor multiple times.

Assistant District Attorney Jackie Knupp, furthering the football comparison, told jurors Cappalonga would have received a penalty for his actions.

“He is pushing with all his might. That is not restraint,” Knupp said.

Cappalonga was fired for excessive use of force following the incident. Aston said he didn’t know if Cappalonga intended to seek reinstatement.

Scott Kennedy, president of the United Mine Workers of America Local 522, the union that represents guards at the county jail, said Cappalonga would be welcomed back to the job.

“The union is very happy with the verdict,” Kennedy said.

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©2020 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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