ASSAULT COUNT DROPPED

Skidmore student pleads guilty to lesser charge in incident that injured cop

DENNIS YUSKO STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B9

Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- John Capitani faced up to seven years in jail for allegedly assaulting and injuring a city police officer at an alcohol-fueled college party. On Tuesday, however, the former goalkeeper for the Skidmore lacrosse team walked free on a violation charge and $100 fine after students at the party said under oath that is was the officer who attacked Capitani.


City police accused Capitani of punching Officer Ed Braim in the face and then pulling him over a porch railing, leaving the officer with injuries that included cracked ribs. The incident occurred at a September party that drew more than 100 Skidmore students to a home at 169 Union Ave. The college suspended Capitani after he was charged with felony assault, two counts of resisting arrest and several alcohol-related violations.


Those charges were dismissed Tuesday when Capitani pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a non-criminal violation. City Judge Jeffrey Wait issued him a $100 fine.


"This was certainly a victory for the defense," Capitani's attorney Kurt Mausert said. "It all happened because an officer chose to use force at a Skidmore beer party."


Capitani's case was aided by six eyewitnesses, all Skidmore College students, who said in sworn affidavits that Braim used force against Capitani after the college junior said "(expletive) the police" to a group of students on the porch, Mausert said. The students said Braim grabbed Capitani from behind, threw him against a house wall, then was injured after falling over the porch in pursuit of Capitani, Mausert said.


Assistant Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said officers who responded to the party last fall attempted to interview individuals at the party, but most were uncooperative.


"It's not surprising that Mr. Capitani's friends gave statements which supported Capitani's version of what occurred," Heggen said. "It's our office's position that the officer acted appropriately that night, and by the defendant's plea, he acknowledged that he acted inappropriately."


The defense hired private investigator Patrick Anastasi to interview eyewitnesses, Mausert said. Capitani's education was derailed, but he plans to return to college near his hometown of Garden City, Nassau County, Mausert said.


Tuesday's plea came during a rocky period of town-gown relations for Skidmore and the city. Some residents criticized the college after a marijuana-smoking party held on campus April 20. More recently, four college hockey players were charged with breaking into the home of a lacrosse player and beating him.


Police Chief Ed Moore declined comment on the Capitani case but said "the vast majority of students at Skidmore are law abiding kids who occasionally suffer at the hands of a miniscule few who can't follow the laws and have no respect for their neighbors."


Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com.