Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Man Found Not Guilty of Assaulting W&M Police at Alumni House

William & Mary officer James Grasser said he fell on this brick patio of the alumni house after attempting to arrest James E. Hardy. (Marie Albiges/ WY Daily)
William & Mary officer James Grasser said he fell on this brick patio of the alumni house after attempting to arrest James E. Hardy. (Marie Albiges/ WY Daily)

Three College of William & Mary Police officers testified Thursday against a Williamsburg man they said urinated on the university’s Alumni House before assaulting a police officer and providing a false identity, but it was not enough to convince a jury.

The 12-person jury found 27-year-old Jason E. Handy not guilty of the assault and false identity charges, acquitting him after hearing about 3 hours of testimony from the three officers and Handy.

Handy was arrested Feb. 28 at the Alumni House between Richmond Road and Bright Street after a campus police officer — who said he suffered a tear in his knee’s cartilage during the encounter — testified Handy assaulted him after he found Handy urinating on the house.

But Handy told the jury he was not urinating. He said he grew up in Newport News and was lost, so he entered William & Mary’s campus to access wireless internet to use Google Maps to find the Super 8 hotel on Richmond Road where he was staying.

He said he had been watching a basketball game on TV and drinking in the hotel with a friend during the evening of Feb. 27 before deciding he was going to take the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority bus to The Crust, a pizza café in Tribe Square on Richmond Road, to speak to the manager there about getting a job as a server or bartender.

He said he stayed at the restaurant until around 10:30 p.m., when WATA was no longer running for the night.

Handy, who said he had been in Williamsburg since late October but was not familiar with the area, told the jury he walked to Massey’s Camera Shop on Prince George Street, where he spotted an out-of-service trolley. He said it “took a while” for the bus to resume service. He got on without knowing which stop was closest to his hotel.

He said he got off at a stop around the Alumni House and proceeded to walk down Richmond Road knowing his hotel was somewhere on the road. Upon walking by the Alumni House, he pulled out his iPod to connect to the Wi-Fi so he could open Google Maps and find his way back with the GPS.

During the cross-examination, Williamsburg-James City County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cathy Black asked Handy why he did not go into any of the four open bars — Brickhouse Tavern, Green Leafe Café, Paul’s Deli and College Delly, all located around the Alumni House — to ask for directions.

“I didn’t want to look like a tourist,” Handy said. “I didn’t ask for directions when I have a device in my hand that I could easily get [the directions].”

During questioning from Black, Officer James Grasser of the William & Mary Police Department testified he saw Handy urinating on a brick wall on the house at about 1:30 a.m. Feb. 28. But when Handy’s attorney, Joshua Goff, cross-examined him, Grasser said he had not actually seen Handy urinating, instead saying he saw what appeared to be a motion of him zipping up his pants. He also said he noticed wetness on the wall.

Grasser said he approached Handy, stopping 12 feet away, where he noticed a strong odor of alcohol. He also said Handy’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy and his speech was slurred. He said he was a William & Mary Police officer and asked Handy to identify himself but was unable to tell whether Handy said “Jason Hand or Jason Handly.” Grasser said Handy could not produce identification.

He said he then determined Handy was “not able to take care of himself” and began to arrest him for public intoxication, but Handy told him he was not a real police officer and he could not arrest him.

Grasser said he tried to handcuff Handy, but Handy elbowed him in the shoulder, so Grasser grabbed his left arm and they both fell to the ground. Grasser said his knee buckled and landed on a brick that was sticking out of the ground. When he landed on the brick, his meniscus, which is cartilage in his knee, tore.

He said Handy proceeded to kick him twice in the torso before running away.

Handy denied intentionally hitting or kicking Grasser at any point during the scuffle.

“I didn’t understand why he was trying to grab me, so I ran,” Handy testified.

Goff contended since it was dark and Handy was not wearing his contacts and was unable to see well, Handy could not identify Grasser as a police officer and mistook him for a security guard.

Grasser, unable to get up from the brick patio, called for backup while Handy ran to the other side of the Alumni House, according to his testimony.

The second witness, Sgt. Dan Salvitti of the William & Mary Police Department, was one of the officers who responded to Grasser’s request for backup. He told the jury he first attended to Grasser, calling medics before joining William & Mary Police officer Pedro Jones, the other officer who responded to the call for backup.

Salvitti said Handy was hiding under a tree at the rear of the Alumni House, ignoring both officers’ orders to come out and yelling obscenities at them.

After Handy repeated the obscenities several times, Salvitti said he pulled out OC spray, also known as pepper spray.

“I decided to spray him rather than make physical contact,” Salvitti said.

After about 15 seconds in which the officers waited for the spray to take effect, Jones was able to grab Handy from under the tree.

Jones testified he asked Handy who he was and lawfully searched him, finding a Florida driver’s license in Handy’s wallet belonging to the friend Handy said had been in the hotel with him earlier that night.

Handy said at no point did he identify himself as anyone other than Jason Handy. He explained his friend had two valid IDs and had asked him to carry one of them just in case he lost the first one.

“It’s not a crime to carry someone else’s ID,” said Goff to the jury during closing arguments. He argued Handy did not realize Grasser was a police officer.

Black argued the more believable story was Handy was drunk and needed to urinate, so he found a spot where he could. Instead of running away from the police, Black said, Handy could have told them he was lost and searching for his hotel.

“How much sense does it make to run away from that person if all he was doing was looking for directions?” Black asked the jury.

After about 30 minutes, the jury — comprised of seven women and five men — reached its verdict, and the felony charge of assaulting a police officer and the misdemeanor charge of falsely identifying himself were dropped.

The William & Mary Police Department is an accredited law enforcement organization with full law enforcement powers over its jurisdiction, which comprises the university.

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