NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 6, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 10-062.
Philip J. Matsikoudis argued the cause for appellant.
Monica do Outeiro, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor argued the cause for respondent (Christopher J. Gramiccioni, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor, attorney; Mary R. Juliano, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel; Joshua D. Detzky, Legal Assistant, on the brief).
Before Judges Alvarez and Carroll.
Following a trial in the Little Silver Municipal Court, defendant, Dante Metta, was found guilty of the petty disorderly persons offense of disorderly conduct, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2a(1). He was sentenced to a fine of $500, together with costs and other appropriate assessments. On the de novo appeal to the Law Division, defendant was again found guilty, and the same sentence was imposed. Defendant now appeals. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
We discern the following facts from the record. The incident occurred on September 5, 2008, when defendant accompanied his fiancée, Francesca Julian, and Ms. Julian's seven-year-old daughter, to a court-ordered visitation exchange with the child's father, Mark Andrews, at the Middletown Township police station. A similar visitation exchange two weeks earlier had led to defendant charging Andrews with harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4b. Julian brought a video camera to record the September 5, 2008 visitation exchange, and the video was admitted in evidence at the trial.
Defendant testified that as he escorted the child to meet Andrews in the parking lot of police headquarters, she became fearful of Andrews' friend, Angelo Aceta, who was brought along to witness the exchange. The child clung to defendant's leg, as Andrews and Cpl. Patricia Colangelo of the Middletown Township Police Department coaxed her to accompany Andrews. According to defendant, Andrews approached him "very angrily and aggressively." Before Andrews reached him, defendant raised up his hand. Andrews "postured up, [and] walked into my hand, " before punching defendant twice. Defendant admitted striking Andrews, but could not recall where, and contended that he merely acted in self-defense. The two men then went to the ground, where defendant attempted to defend himself as they were "scuffling around." Andrews put him in a headlock, punched him in the face, and dug his finger into defendant's eye. When separated by the police officers who were called for assistance, he did not resist.
Julian testified, similarly indicating that Andrews walked up and "nailed" defendant. This caused her to briefly drop her video camera on the ground before again continuing to record the confrontation.
Andrews offered a different account. While in the parking lot, he observed that Julian was filming. He then entered police headquarters, requested assistance, and Colangelo accompanied him back outside. When he went to take his daughter, defendant blocked him, put his hand on Andrews' chest, and said "don't even try it." When Andrews pushed defendant's hand off his chest, defendant punched him three times in the face, twice more on the back of his head, and then jumped on his back. The men fell to the ground, where Andrews gained the upper hand and held defendant until other police officers arrived. Although he acknowledged hearing Colangelo direct them to stop fighting, he did not immediately get off defendant because he believed that defendant would just continue to strike him.
Andrews' friend, Aceta, supported his version. Aceta testified that Andrews requested him to come along as a witness because he was being harassed by defendant. According to Aceta, defendant punched Andrews in the face. Andrews did not punch defendant back, and instead tried to defend himself by covering his face. The confrontation ended with Andrews holding defendant on the ground, where a male officer had to physically separate them. Aceta indicated that he heard the female officer tell the men to "break it up."
Several police witnesses testified. Cpl. Colangelo confirmed that Andrews had entered police headquarters and requested assistance in the visitation exchange. She accompanied Andrews into the parking lot, where Julian was filming. She observed defendant approach with the young girl, who appeared to be afraid of Aceta. According to Colangelo, defendant then postured aggressively by pushing his chest out, and by telling Andrews "don't you." The men began pushing and shoving, and the child ran off screaming. Because her attention was diverted to the child, Colangelo did not observe who threw the first punch, although in her opinion defendant started the confrontation with his posturing and was the aggressor. Her verbal requests that the men cease fighting went unheeded. A female citizen walking in the parking lot ...