Officer Cleared of Assault Following High-Speed Car Chase

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

September 16, 2004

Kingston- An Ulster County jury yesterday acquitted Newburgh town police Officer Bill McLean of a charge that he repeatedly kicked a man after a high-speed chase last year.

The jury deliberated for about two hours before delivering its verdict to state Supreme Court Justice Michael Kavanagh: Not guilty of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

McLean was bear-hugged by family, friends and fellow cops from Newburgh and neighboring departments who turned out by the dozens to support him throughout the three-day trial. They applauded him and his lawyer, John Ingrassia, as they stepped outside the Ulster County Courthouse.

McLean, 35, goes back on the road Saturday. The 14-year veteran had been reassigned to police headquarters since his indictment in October.

"It's going to be a fresh start," McLean said, quietly jubilant and hugging his wife after the verdict. "Justice prevailed."

McLean was accused of kicking Robert Stahli of Highland in the face after a chase that started after midnight on June 2, 2003. Stahli wouldn't pull over for a seat belt violation, and by the time the chase ended in Plattekill, his car had collided four times with police cars trying to stop him.

Stahli is now serving state prison time for three drunken-driving convictions, including the one from that night. He had a decade-long history of breaking the law, and prosecutors didn't present him as a witness, although Stahli was called as a hostile witness by Ingrassia. A state police investigator and a Marlborough officer who joined the chase testified that they saw McLean kick Stahli.

"We know these are difficult cases," District Attorney Donald Williams said after the verdict, "but difficult cases must be litigated. The credibility of the victim was a serious issue. The credibility of the officers who were there is without question."

In his closing argument, Ingrassia observed that medical records raised the question of whether Stahli suffered his injuries from the collisions. Stahli wasn't wearing a seat belt during the chase.

McLean testified that when he arrived on the scene, he heard another officer telling Stahli, "show me your hands" as they struggled to bring him under control. He said he struggled with Stahli, but didn't kick him. Ingrassia argued that McLean used a necessary amount of force, and that Stahli's injuries would have been much worse if Stahli had been kicked.

He also observed that Stahli sued the town for millions in federal court months after the chase.

"Maybe he has a million reasons to change his story," Ingrassia told the jury, "and those, ladies and gentlemen, are dollars."

Jurors declined to discuss the verdict.

* Reprinted with permission of The Times Herald-Record

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.